The door opened and in stepped Mr Groves. It was another hot day, and a subtle wave of warmth wafted straight in through the gap. White light glared angrily through the windows, boring between his shoulder blades and making him sweat. James ignored it and pushed the pile of paperwork aside, clasping his hands together before him. The door was shut again, returning the room to silence. Something wasn’t quite right; James could see it in the way he lingered at the door, could read it in the man’s face as he turned around slowly. His brow was dark, and his eyes were red. James frowned, hoping it wasn’t a bereavement.
“Commodore,” he nodded solemnly, and James gestured towards the chair. His voice sounded much too tired for so early an hour.
“Please take a seat, Mr. Groves…” he said, and saw the way that brown gaze averted to avoid his scrutiny. Theo mumbled a response and lowered himself into the chair; James knew he didn’t mean to be rude. For the time he had served under his command, Theo had always performed well as a lieutenant. James found him reliable during a heated situation, and liked how the man could still see through it all with a grim smile on his face. James was glad his own days as lieutenant were long over. Only his seniors would really remember those few, rare seconds when James Norrington wasn’t James Norrington, but a wretched thing of fear. He still remembered something his captain at the time had said to him; “I do wish you wouldn’t laugh so much…it makes me feel rather uncomfortable.” Ever since that comment he had to reinforce and build upon that steely control of his. Experience taught him to keep his weaknesses under control, and that mania brimming under the surface as the ship shook with the cannons and men fell back as though they would never stop doing so. But even during his first days as captain, pressure sometimes brought it back; he supposed it had been a rather ghastly sound, which no doubt made those around him feel uncomfortable; he cringed to remember it now, for it had seemed to border so dangerously close to hysteria. Somehow it was always Andrew who brought him round with the clearing of his throat, or a brief and quiet utterance. He would nod and smile that awkwardly reassuring smile of his, their fears all part of the bigger, uglier whole.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” said Theo. James cleared his throat softly, returning to the matter at hand. He had to ask, however, before he continued with the proposition. Personal issues were not usually his concern, but the welfare of his officers was, especially that of a man he was about to send out on a lengthy voyage.
“Is there a problem, Mr. Groves?”
“No, sir,” Theo straightened his back.
“I am about to ask you to embark on a month long journey,” James glanced up from his hands, and was a little surprised to see the other breaking into a slow smile.
“…I take it from your reaction that you have no objections?”
Theo shook his head quickly and opened his mouth to say something, but hesitated.
“Four weeks is quite a length of time…” said James as he watched the change of expression closely; the crease in Theo’s brow had smoothed away, and already his eyes were looking more lively.
"I feel more than ready for the assignment, sir.”
“Very well, Mr. Groves. I shall take your word for it,” James grinned and tapped his clasped hands against the desk. “You shall be escorting the honourable Lady Bertram from England to these shores. I am putting you in charge of the Unicorn-”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I understand you are familiar with her.”
“Yes, sir,” Theo’s smile deepened, and James chuckled, unclasping his hands to twiddle the quill laying upon his desk.
“I’m curious, Mr. Groves, so I hope you don’t mind me asking.”
“Not at all, sir.”
“You seem rather eager to be leaving port,” he said, watching Theo’s face as it coloured ever so slightly. “Which is perfectly understandable. I only hope it is not because you are eager to be leaving something behind in particular…”
"I am not fleeing from debt or anything like that, if that is what you mean, sir," Theo’s dark eyebrows lofted.
“Indeed. For I haven't seen many men getting so upset because they owed somebody money…” James smiled, and so did Theo, though his face looked rather flushed.
“...there are far worser things capable of harassing one’s mind than…matters of a material nature, sir...namely those frivolous problems of the hear-” the lieutenant caught himself before he could ramble on, but James’s smile had turned into one of sympathy.
“I suppose we are all constantly running away from something in life…“ he glanced down at the quill between his hands. “Fleeing to sea in the attempt to avoid those…more unruly emotions…would probably come like second nature to men such as ourselves…”
He looked up to find Theo nodding in agreement.
“You have been my lieutenant for a while now Mr Groves, and I have barely spared much time for you as a friend...” he said quietly, and brown eyes widened as those dark eyebrows peaked with mild surprise.
“Not at all, sir,” he said hurriedly, and James wondered whether he should have spoken so casually. As of late he had been craving for companionship, ever since Andrew had left. Now he was to send away another of his friends, though he supposed his own cool regard and professional distancing may have kept others from noticing how much he truly valued those loyal figures at his side, striving with him to keep things in control. He admired certain aspects of Theo’s character, though the man probably didn’t consider him as a friend, as such. James had never been engaged in any lengthy and in-depth conversation with him. Neither was he any good at sharing banter, but that of course was not expected of a commanding officer. Though he had seen his best lieutenant off with perfect composure, perhaps regret now made him want to do it differently this time round.
“Whatever that may be troubling you…if it isn’t something which can be solved practically…I hope that you shall find some peace of mind, if not any immediate answers upon your voyage,” he said, then added with a small smile, “it is the Governor’s personal request that I impress Lady Bertram, and I’m afraid I can’t do that if the man in charge is looking as miserable as he had done walking through that door.”
Theo puffed up his chest and touched his hat.
“You may count on me, sir.”
“Good. I’m sure I’ll have nothing to worry about if you receive the good lady with the same dashing merriment you are currently exhibiting,” James grinned, and saw the lieutenant fighting a smile.
James both liked and disliked the afternoon. He liked it because it marked that time of the day when one could sneakily retrieve a bottle and glass from the bottom drawer of his work desk. He disliked it because despite cradling the finest glass of claret in his hands, it did not stop his wig from itching, nor the room from growing gradually hotter and hotter as the sun carried on pulsing out waves of heat in that perfectly clear sky. Tugging at his cravat, he left his chair to open up the windows, humming to himself when someone knocked upon the door.
“Enter,” he called as he fumbled with the latch on the last window. The door opened, and he heard someone stepping halfway in.
“Just in time. I can’t seem to get this-”
“Miss Swann is here to see you, sir.”
James stopped struggling and turned from the window. Elizabeth was stood in her bonnet and her best whites; he remembered the dress from one of the earliest days he had started visiting the Swann household. It seemed a little odd to see her wearing it now. In the blaze of the afternoon, Elizabeth stood there like a vision.
“Thank you, Watson, you may leave us now,” said James, and the man nodded then retreated out of the room, shutting the door. As soon as he did, Elizabeth stopped wringing her hands and jerked at the ribbons of her bonnet.
“I apologise for intruding upon-” she began hastily as she set the bonnet down upon his desk, and noticed his large bottle of claret.
“Not at all,” James cut in as he strode towards her. “Is something wrong…?”
Up close, he could see how flushed her face was. She opened her mouth, but before she could speak, he reached over to pour her a glass. He handed her the claret and she took it gratefully before downing a rather large amount. She caught his eye and he looked away, clearing his throat as she sighed and touched the corners of her mouth with a gloved hand; James wondered how women could stand the heat in all their accessories. His wig itched, and he refrained from scratching in front of Elizabeth.
“You are not in trouble, I hope?” he took the glass gently from her.
“No,” she said curtly, then stopped. James waited, but she only dithered on the spot, looking ready to faint. He was about to ask her to sit when her hand shot out to the desk.
“I shouldn’t be here,” she said, and he saw her fingers folding into a fist across his paperwork, the tensing of her jaw as she turned her face to the side.
“I don’t understand,” James frowned. “Is someone threatening you?”
“It’s nothing like that,” she shook her head impatiently, then glanced at him from the corners of her eyes. “To be honest…you’re probably the last person I should be seeing, but I…”
James sighed inwardly and took her arm, guiding her into the chair despite her resistance.
“You must tell me what the matter is before I can help you-” he paused when he saw her raise a hand to her brow. “If that is indeed what you want.” He heard a sigh, then the small rustle as she withdrew something from the folds of her skirts. James looked down at the scrap of paper held up to him.
“I found this on my dresser,” she paused and looked at him. "I can't be sure when it was left, but I only noticed it when I got up this morning."
James took the bit of parchment from her and unfolded it slowly to find a few haphazard lines, scrawled as though in a rush.
“Dearest Elizabeth,” he read, glancing back at her before turning to the words again, “forgive me for leaving like this, but Jack-” He paused at the name and saw Elizabeth closing her eyes with exasperation. "and I have something we must settle,” James continued solemnly. “I shall be back very soon, and I promise to explain it all then. Keep this to yourself, and remember that I love you. Will.”
“You must think he is as bad as Jack," said Elizabeth, glancing at him.
"If that is indeed the meaning behind this business to be settled, Jack's simply gaining a new crew member."
James folded the parchment and returned it to her, wondering whether this sudden note had anything to do with his earlier request of action. He had no problem with chasing down an old rogue and threat of the sea, and he would have no issue with throwing into the brig all those who chose to assist him on his wayward plans. If these men were to raise havoc upon important trading lines by threatening and attacking unsuspecting vessels, his job remained to rein them in as soon as possible. But what on earth was he supposed to do with this? A flimsy note, written by a blacksmith with a history of working alongside the worst pirate in the seven seas. So it wasn’t Elizabeth who was in danger after all, but rather Will. The boy was no match to Sparrow's cunning, whatever business it was they were tending to. If this was all legit, what business was it? The object of the first ordeal had been Elizabeth. What was Sparrow using to entice Turner on another ill-thought-out venture?
“I know that there isn’t much to go by in the note,” said Elizabeth. James noticed her voice was strained, and turned to look at her. There was an angry glint in her eyes, but it didn’t seem to be directed at him; she kept looking out of the window as much as he did.
“But I wish to make a request nonetheless.”
James exhaled deeply, and Elizabeth continued before he could object.
“I only ask,” she said, eyes on him, then added afterwards, “James…”
He looked into her face, at that serious dark gaze.
“For you to hold attacks on the Pearl-”
“You know very well that is not a sensible request-”
“Sparrow and his crew remain criminals despite what may have happened in the past, and you cannot ask me to willingly allow him to pillage without-”
“You let him go once.”
He opened his mouth, but she carried on.
“Don’t tell me it was a mistake because you know it wasn’t.”
“I admit that I had decided against chasing after Sparrow,” he said as he strode back towards the window uncomfortably. "Partly because of the good he had somehow managed to do, even if most of us believe it was largely unintentional on his part." Elizabeth released an irritated sigh, but James ignored it and carried on.
"My men questioned why I let him go, they still do. But you know by now that I'm not the kind to refuse acknowledging a good deed even though I may not go as far as to suggest it can redeem a man. Ultimately I saw that there was no point in chasing after him. At least, that was what I thought, and I was lucky they didn't take my title for the impudence of my judgement.” He sighed quietly and turned to address her. “Your note from Will is not enough to make me send my men out on a frivolous goose chase, Elizabeth,” he said quietly. “But if the Pearl is caught doing anything out of line, I shall not prevent my men from doing their duty-”
“If Sparrow is indeed plotting something, who knows what it could be? Knowing him, it'd probably be something subversive and dangerous, and I cannot allow something like that to continue if I have the means to put a stop to it.”
“You say if he is plotting something dangerous, but it makes no sense to open fire on the Pearl unless you can be sure that he is up to no good,” she argued, standing up and sweeping over to him.
"Elizabeth, that's nonsense," he said quickly, but she drew up close and put her hand on his arm.
“Please James, the Pearl is not the only threat out there, and I only ask that you at least wait and see what is going on first.”
"So they can take the advantage again and blow new holes into Port Royal? Into the homes of innocent citizens?"
"They wouldn't do that," she snapped, pulling her hand away.
"Elizabeth, no matter how much we could try to calculate and predict the ways of our foe, it's never as sure as we wish. The cost of a misjudgement could be disastrous, and I can't take your one good word for the pirate against a hundred."
Elizabeth closed her eyes again as though to compose herself.
"I cannot understand why you are making such a request," he said quietly. "Despite all that has happened, you know pirates can never be trusted.”
“I trust Will,” she said, meeting him squarely in the eye. “And I won’t have him hurt.”
James sighed inwardly and paced slowly back to his desk.
“There are many things which are beyond our control, Elizabeth,” he said, lowering himself into his chair. “I shan’t mention the note again, but your request shall not be met.” He clasped his hands together upon the desk, meeting her gaze. “Say you wanted a parle. There's no use in playing by their rules if they are fickle enough not to abide them themselves. If the Pearl were to attack I will not have my men playing sitting ducks. Please understand that I don't have a choice in my position.”
He finished talking and watched her. A long moment passed as she stared out of the window behind him; James could imagine her scouting day and night for the ship with the black sails. As the seconds passed the passion faded from her eyes, and for the first ever time James saw something akin to true helplessness.
“You must think I am a fool,” she said quietly as she looked at him for a moment, then looked away again.
“I understand your frustration, Elizabeth,” replied James gently, but she shook her head.
“No, James, you don’t.” She let out a sigh and reached for her bonnet, eyes on the ribbons, but she wasn’t really looking. “I’m angry that...he didn't think to tell me in person,” she said, her voice growing more quiet and reluctant, clearly uncomfortable with relating her feelings to James. “Why he thought I wouldn’t understand, as though he thought I would try to stop him...”
“And you would’ve gone with him, if he had asked?” James said lightly, probing, and sure enough her chin lifted defiantly.
“I don’t know what you mean, James.”
“Yes, well, despite it all,” he said, suddenly tired of having his foot caught in a web of other people’s affairs. “He said he shall return. I’m sure he just wanted to keep you out of any unpleasant entanglements.” He saw the impatience slipping back into her eyes, and finished off briskly. “Will just wants you to be safe, Elizabeth. I’m sure if I were away on some…obligatory mission, I would try to be done with it as soon as possible since I have someone waiting on me.”
“I know what you’re trying to do James, but you don’t have to speak kindly for him. I'm afraid it doesn’t console me in the least,” said Elizabeth as she put on her bonnet and started fastening the ribbons beneath her chin. “I don’t even know where he’s gone,” her voice was quiet again, unsure.
Her manner remained haughty despite his efforts, and if James was reading correctly, the whole conversation was a blow to her pride; she had once managed to escape from the Dauntless unnoticed, taking matters into her own hands when all the men couldn’t help her. She had been through the trials of abduction, and her eyes were the first to see what still made men quiver in those darker hours of sleep. Of course it was infuriating being in her situation now, unable to act without asking some higher, male power first in order to obtain the means which enabled men to do what they did. She was brave but hasty, and for a second James even suspected that she would make a capable accomplice to Sparrow and his crew.
“You said that you trusted him.”
“Then he’ll be back.”
Elizabeth said nothing else. James watched her steadily; where would she go now? Somehow he didn’t think she would be returning to the silent comfort of her home. What balm could soothe the agitation of a restless mind, of someone who had been given the taste of action and yet who was now supposed to settle back in with marriage and family values. To sit and wait. What was she going to do with a young man who perhaps only just realised where he truly belonged, whether or not that was the right place? No, he shouldn’t doubt Turner, not when the man had proven them all wrong once already. Elizabeth retrieved a fan, and James was wary again; what if she fainted on her way to the carriage? He knew he shouldn’t ask, but he didn’t like the thought of leaving her.
“Perhaps you would care to join me on a walk,” he said, rising from the desk. As he shrugged back into his coat, he sighed inwardly at the thought of stepping out into the heat again; his shirt still felt faintly damp at his chest and between his shoulder blades. Elizabeth remained quiet as he donned his hat and came out from behind his desk; the room filled with the sound of her fan flicking back and forth like the restless flapping of a bird.
“Come, Elizabeth,” he said at the door, and opened it as she finally moved from the spot to follow him.
The air outside proved to be no better than that inside of his office. Within ten steps James could feel the first trickle running down his nape. Elizabeth had paused to lean against a column.
“Perhaps we should go back,” he said, looking back at her and refraining to bridge that gap between them lest the offer of help offended her.
“No, it’s fine,” she said, wafting the fan before her face as she turned her eyes upon the sea below. “It’s just so…”
“Hot, I know, even in the shade," he murmured, his eyes also on the vivid waters below, yet he wasn't really looking. His mind was on the suspicious figure slipping in and out of shadow. Will had missed dinner the night before for some supposed plans. Had he been making contact with Sparrow by then? Elizabeth must have thought about it too.
But the evidence of mischief was far too scanty and vague for them to do anything about. How could he tell it was really Will who wrote that note, for instance? Rescue missions were rare, and theirs had been permitted only because Elizabeth had been the Governor’s daughter. Nobody but themselves cared about the disappearance of a blacksmith, who as far as they knew, could have joined a life of crime for good this time round. And if it really was his own choice, nothing more could be said. He chanced a glance at Elizabeth, and believed he had never seen her look so troubled before. Idly he decided the look suited her, gave her an air of added respect, of maturity he supposed.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for you at this moment, Elizabeth,” he said regretfully, and she met his eye. “I shall send word out for the scouts to stay alert, and to inform me if they catch sight of the Pearl, but until we hear back from them it is very much a waiting game.”
Elizabeth turned her face back towards the sea, and James walked slowly up to her, eyes following in her line of sight. From here they could see the brigs sailing out after a speedy recovery. He had looked upon them earlier, impressed by the quality of workmanship gone into the repairs. Without a glass, they were twin specks bobbing out in the wide, open blue. Glancing aside he caught a frown. The air finally lifted with the smallest breeze, stirring the finer wisps of dark brown hair against the sharp contours of Elizabeth’s face.
“I know I'm not the most patient of people, but thank you, I suppose, for at least listening to me,” she said, looking at him. 'I wouldn't have known who else to turn to with this."
"You know you needn't ever hesitate to tell me anything, Elizabeth.'
"What's the use," she muttered as she turned her eyes back on the brigs. "I need more than words to swindle a ship and crew out of you."
James chuckled, marvelling somewhat at her headstrong character. He too watched as the brigs finally disappeared from their view.
"Yes, you do."
Andrew had to ask his senior lieutenant to repeat what he had said. Live fire practice was almost unheard of; it had never been done upon the ships he had served, anyway. The Dauntless had her fill of practice runs, but there was no such thing as additional powder; it was enough for the men to focus solely on the effective handling and manoeuvring of the guns, which took long enough to master in itself. Besides, nobody ever wanted to waste what would be a potential shot against a real enemy. He was told by Fry, however, that the captain always purchased extra powder from his personal funds; something to do with prize money apparently.
“Again!” Andrew shouted and the sound of feet scrambling against the deck broke out once more as the men heaved at the guns. The rain had come back with a vengeance, and he turned from where he stood with the gun crew upon main deck, looking back at the older lieutenant with a raised eyebrow, which the other man returned as though to say “You didn’t really believe it would stop, did you?” Glancing over onto starboard, Andrew saw Wilson watching him with a grim expression on his face; his hat was dripping rainwater and something in his eyes reminded him of a scolded child. Perhaps he was too fond of leading the drill to have someone else taking it over. When Andrew turned his eyes back on the gun crew, a multitude of hands were just finishing their ramming with the swabs as the boys came darting back up with the new charges. In they went, followed by the fresh shots, and the men were waiting on his word again, their eyes on the bobbing practice target they had put together and cast out somewhat haphazardly; each man was so keen to assemble into their teams around each gun that it seemed not to matter so much what they shot at, so long as they did it in good time. When he gave the word they fired in an almost perfectly timed crash, and the men kept fast at the tackles, each knowing precisely what was expected of him. Rain water dripped into their eyes, but most didn’t even blink. Andrew breathed in the smell of smoke as it drifted across the deck, glancing again at Fry, stood with his hands clasped behind his back at the quarter deck rail, and now looking as though he wanted to say, “I told you we were good” with the faintest lift to the corner of his mouth.
James closed his eyes and slid under the surface of the water. His ears filled with an enveloping thrum, and in his mind he could see him leaning against the doorway with his arms folded, wearing that old off-kilter smile on his face. It would be a game of hide and go-seek, and right now, in this very moment, Andrew would be pacing slowly into the room with steps careful and silent. And right at the last minute, James would spring up out of the bath with a great spray of water and grab him, playing the same trick on the other as he used to do on his maid when he was a young lad. James fancied he could hear Andrew laughing as he attempted to drag him down into the water; he could imagine feeling his weight falling onto him, and there not being enough room in the tub for the both of them. And whilst they would struggle and laugh and snort at one another, something he wouldn't have noticed at first would slowly reveal itself. Slowly he would look up into Andrew’s face, at those still, dry lips parting to dead words. “You're safe now,” James would whisper softly, but Andrew’s smile would grow strained, and together they'd look down at the rippling water, at the way it darkened till it turned so very black so very fast. But from what? A grisly dark hole which saw light, perhaps, or something small and hidden away beneath the folds of his uniform. Or the opposite, something you could not miss. Lungs burning for air, he sat up in the tub and folded his arms upon his knees, resting his chin upon cold damp skin. He listened to the fireplace and watched the flickering orange tongues in silence. Maria soon passed by the open doorway. She paused in her step when she saw him, then uttered a quick apology and scuttled onwards with glowing cheeks.
Andrew swivelled the spoon around in his bowl and folded his arms upon the table, watching Mr. Phillips close the door of his cabin behind him. Harris sat across him at the table, his eyes on the cards he was shuffling between his hands as Fry wolfed down another portion of stew; it must have been the officers’ favourite dish. It was just the three of them in the wardroom, the rest having retreated to the only morsels of space on the ship which allowed them to sigh or brood all they liked without being questioned for it; Wilson had been the first to retire, taking his ill temper with him into his cabin. During the gun drill Wilson had struck one of the lads for slipping on the deck and losing his charge. Andrew passed a comment on how he considered it unnecessary to use such force, considering the weather had been poor and it wasn’t as though the boy did it on purpose. Wilson’s response had been to use the name of discipline as a sure-sign of reducing mistakes. “He shall take more care next time,” he’d said, but Andrew was sceptical. The lieutenant seemed to think he was interfering with the system, though personally Andrew was not so sure about Wilson’s interpretation of it; a system which did not believe in accidents seemed like a strained one to him. How much of it was the captain’s way, and that of the lieutenant taking his frustrations out on the lad? Andrew knew Wilson felt threatened by his presence, but could not understand why the man could not just relax; he had never challenged him openly, unless he considered today’s comment a personal jibe. Grudges were a curse, through and through.
“So who is the queen of hearts?”
Fry stopped eating and looked at him as though he had asked the most peculiar question; and he supposed it did sound a little strange, though they had Harris to blame for rousing his curiosity in the first place.
“Where, is more like it,” said Harris, tapping the cards on the tablecloth impatiently.
Somehow Andrew believed the marine officer was not talking about an incomplete deck.
“Yes, well,” murmured Fry as he set down his spoon with a clatter and picked at something in his teeth with his tongue. Andrew tapped the table lightly and the nearby steward refilled his glass. He saw Harris dismiss the lad with a glance, and they settled back in their chairs, waiting for Fry to finish his sip of wine.
“Married, most likely,” he finished at last, raising a scarred hand to itch at his wig.
Harris snorted, and Andrew leant forwards on his arms.
“So we are talking about a lost love?” he asked, lofting his brows at both men.
“O yes,” said Fry as he leant across to pluck the deck of cards from Harris’s hands. “We all thought she was bloody marvellous, didn’t we Harris.”
The youthful officer gave a shrug at him, then turned his sceptical brown eyes onto Andrew.
“I wouldn’t quite phrase it that way myself.”
Andrew laughed and touched the base of his glass.
“And I always thought it was bad luck to have women aboard…”
“On the contrary, we all thought she was something of a blessing,” said Fry as he dealt out the cards.
“Romantic nonsense if you ask me,” retorted Harris as he picked up his cards one by one before the other had finished dealing. Andrew saw the smile on Fry’s lips and felt himself growing more intrigued by the passing moment. “Numbers won us the Confiant, and if the French had managed to squeeze themselves out of that one, I would’ve eaten my own hat.”
“I don’t think they thought it worthwhile to even try, Mr. Harris…not the most comfortable of situations, being caught between two enemy ships…”
“So this lady that you speak of, she was onboard during the battle?” asked Andrew as he picked up his cards.
“We didn’t hear a peep from her again until it was all over. Apparently the good Lady was praying for us in the captain’s cabin,” muttered Harris as he frowned at his hand. “You must deal the next round, Mr. Gillette. Somehow I always manage to end up with the worst possible hands when-”
One of the cabin doors opened and they settled down into to a quiet murmur, with Harris grumbling over his ill luck, and Fry waving the other off with another dry witticism or two. Andrew won three games out of five, and both men called it beginner’s luck despite the fact that he’d played it for years. They didn’t return to the conversation, but Andrew made a guess at who the king of hearts was.
Andrew laid in the dark, listening to each creak of the woodwork as the Adamant crashed on through the night’s wilder waves. Above his head he could hear the constant sound of men’s feet thudding around upon the deck, and for a sickening moment he thought of the Dauntless, of being with James in the great cabin, of their careful, and sometimes less careful scuffles behind the doors, which in themselves were mere panels designed for an easy manoeuvre during battle. In the fever of the moment there would always be something left out of one’s calculations. People who feared for their privacy often kept in mind the thickness of certain walls. Did anyone ever pick up on the strange pattern of their shoes dragging against the rug in James’s cabin? Did they ever watch up at the deck like he was doing now, and recognise that awful rhythm which did not belong to the ship nor the sea which surrounded them for miles on end? A cold sweat crept itself slowly over him as his thoughts continued; his own fears twisted certain memories until he was almost sure that some officer or another had looked at him funny at some point. He tossed violently onto his other side and stared into the dark, willing himself to dispense with such bouts of paranoia; the Dauntless was a large ship. A ship of the line, with hundreds of souls onboard. Such a number of people kept between the decks a constant hum of noise; what was a strangled gasp amongst it all?
“Fool,” he berated himself. "If anyone had suspected you wouldn't still be here. Sleep.”
But he couldn’t sleep. A moment ago he had been dreaming. He saw James holding someone that wasn’t himself, and he was stood watching them, angry at himself for not saying anything because he had agreed to it. He had the same dream the night before, and had hoped that the hours spent pacing backwards and forwards giving orders and even commanding a gun drill would tire him enough to secure a thoughtless rest in some peaceful oblivion. Fry had seen through him since day one despite his denial; whatever romantic story had taken place in the past aboard the ship, deep down Andrew was secretly pining over his own. Pushing aside the sheet, he climbed out of his cot gingerly, hands bracing against the panelling to either side of him which served as thin substitutes for walls dividing him from the other officers. The ship rolled sharply over a large cresting wave, and he almost lost his footing for a second. He bent down towards his chest and opened it with one hand as he steadied himself against the cot with another. Rooting to the bottom, he grasped what he hoped was the item he sought, and tugged it out of the chest. Rolling back into the cot, he pressed the scrunched-up linen to his face, caught what still lingered of his scent, and closed his eyes.
The carriage bounced along so hard that James suspected the driver had taken one drink too many for the road. Leaning down, he peered out of the window and saw the Swann household drawing near. It was a dark evening, but the sky was brilliantly clear and the stars were visible in their far-stretching clusters above. He wondered how the night fell for those aboard the Adamant. Once more the governor had asked him to dine with them, but after the previous talk in his office James wondered whether Weatherby would choose to mention those personal affairs he had hinted of earlier in his confidence. The man chose to confide in him, but James would have liked to remain untangled within another’s family affairs. The reality was that he had so lost touch with his own, that he felt foolish at times, out of place in fact, whenever he became immersed within the domestic sphere. He wished he could relax more, and participate in the homeliness without constantly stepping back to observe. This inwardly detached attitude often made him feel slightly nervous whenever he speculated on the chances of becoming caught in some embarrassing conflict breaking out between father and daughter. If anything were to start, he just hoped he would have the chance to inform Weatherby first on his decision to assign Lieutenant Groves with the task of receiving the honourable Lady Bertram and her son. The carriage jolted violently, throwing him forward and out of his seat. After a small stumble followed by a hastey scramble to his feet, James adjusted the hat on his head and opened the carriage door, stepping out before the driver had made a full stop; when it came to ill services, James was not the sort to be afraid to speak out against them.
The footman took his coat, his face devoid of expression as usual; Winston did not believe in smiling it seemed, not even at the more familiar of guests. James took a quick glance around the foyer, thought briefly about those awkward moments he'd spent staring at a painting or a crack in the floor because it proved easier than meeting that impatient look on Elizabeth’s face. Making his way quietly down the hallway towards the great room, he picked up on the aggitated sound of conversation. The voices were unmistakable, propelling him back instantly to another year, another time, when he was doing the very same thing and eavesdropping to words spoken in a similar manner. He slowed down upon approaching the doorway, and could hear Elizabeth responding to something her father had said; her voice seemed restrained, uncomfortable, and it made James feel the same for suspecting he was the cause of her unrest. Some things never changed.
"But still I think it would be awkward-”
“Nonsense Elizabeth, I’m sure in time they will get to know each other better.”
“Could you make light conversation with a man who tried to arrest you?”
“Well I doubt it would be exactly easy exchanging pleasantries with a pirate's accomplice-”
James stopped his loathed loitering at the doorway and strode in briskly, pretending he had just arrived. Elizabeth was sat in the couch opposite her father, and they both stood up immediately upon seeing him.
“Ah, commodore!” greeted the governor with a smile. "How typical of you to keep us waiting!" James apologised almost on cue, and returned the smile as he greeted them, though his eyes were on Elizabeth.
"Commodore," she replied in turn, and offered one of her own well-practiced grins. For a second James thought the three of them were standing like a trio of fools. Weatherby was a fool for pretending everything would be grand whilst he continued inviting the rejected suitor over infront of his daughter and chosen lover. Elizabeth was a fool for believing James too ignorant or selfish not to understand her pained response to her father's actions, and James himself was a fool for agreeing to come. Wouldn't it be somewhat farcical to have them all, including Turner sat around the family dining table?
"I assume Mr Turner has started without us?" he said as a joke, hoping to lighten up the atmosphere a little in the room. But Weatherby coughed and Elizabeth's right eye seemed to twitch; he couldn't decide if he imagined it or if she really was giving him the slightest ever dirty look.
"Will has plans, and won't be joining us," she said casually, ignoring the look her father pretended to give James, but which in fact was meant to be seen by all; it said, "I know, what are those blacksmiths like?".
"I see, that's a shame," replied James in earnest, but he suspected the indifference of Elizabeth's gaze meant she didn't believe he really meant it. Eager to hurry things on, Weatherby suggested they headed towards the formal dining room, and James waited for Elizabeth to come out from between the couches. As she passed she gave him a look from the corners of her eyes, but James didn't want to try and decipher what it could mean.
"After you," he said softly. Never mind, he told himself, for once Elizabeth and Will were married the invites would have to stop. Perhaps the Governor would finally drop his prejudice. If not, James wouldn’t mind having company over at his own place now and again, though he could see the look on Andrew's face now, if he told him who would be joining them for dinner.
The Governor took his decision well, and only requested that Lieutenant Groves be put in command of a handsome looking ship. James could not help smiling at the vanity of his concern, but agreed nonetheless. Stood on the steps of his porch, he turned to the squeak of wheels and watched the carriage driving off past the low wall beneath the trees. For a second he thought he saw a familiar figure, the hands clasped behind his back, the feet moving with a funny little bounce. How carefree and far away from the true world such moments together suddenly seemed. He looked up at the navy sky and saw the moon; the pale disk looked tranquil, hanging in the clarity of the night. Not so long ago he had watched in a similar fashion and discovered a hidden sign, a warning for the Pearl. Remembering the entire incident filled him slowly with adrenaline, and the fingers on his right hand twitched as he remembered drawing out his pistol to shoot the first demon which locked eyes with him aboard the Dauntless. What was Andrew doing now? He realised he had been dithering on the step for a while, and decided he would not be retiring just yet; no, he wanted to go somewhere with noise, with the hearty company of men. The common haunt for all manner of people, and a nice distraction from his own sense of…funny, he suddenly stopped. Since when did he prefer the clamour of numbers over quietude? Not being in action made a man restless. He missed commanding a ship and her crew. Apart from the odd battle now and again, there was in fact quite a steady amount of time spent waiting for something to happen. The promise was that you never knew when; it could be during an idle afternoon top-up between filling in paperwork, or when he was sleeping in his bed and dreaming of a certain lieutenant. What had the Governor said to Elizabeth? Something about not gallivanting after pirates? In all honesty he wouldn’t mind chasing down another pirate ship just now.
The barmaid kept glancing over at him. She had an eyebrow arched, and her mouth was all drawn into a little bud as though she was measuring him up. James found her look interesting but glanced away before he gave out the wrong message. He supposed he must have stuck out quite a bit from the regulars, even out of his uniform. As he asked for a refill he gave his surroundings a casual scout, starting with the men clustered around the bar, and ending with a small gang crowded about a table to the far back. Now and then someone would burst into laughter. Sometimes a sailor would spring to his feet, thrusting his fist out at his opponent threateningly before a mate attempted to hold him back, muttering into his ear “Come on Barry, he’s not worth it." James wondered if eavesdropping was to become one of his secret pleasures. Raising his beverage to his lips, he watched as the mens' thick, brown hands slapped their cards upon the sticky surfaces. Somewhere in the room, hidden away in some obscure corner, the metallic clatter of coins hitting the table could only just be heard, followed by a low and secretive murmur. James's surveying eyes followed the sound and came across two men, one more senior than the other, both sat quite apart but with matching smiles on their faces; glancing down he thought he saw the younger one move his hand closer to the other's behind the haphazard wall of tumblers.
“If you don't mind me asking, sir," said a voice from nearby, and James stopped squinting. He turned his head and found the barmaid from before, coming up to his side carrying empty jugs. She was a small creature, but womanly in the sense that a good measure of curves could be called unmistakably feminine. There was an assertiveness in her body language, in the way she carried herself as much as there was confidence in the way she approached.
“You're new here aren't you?" she said, and James smiled good naturedly, casting aside his usual reserve.
"You are rather perceptive."
“How else can I tell the good men from the bad?"
James gave a short laugh, and watched as she stopped for a moment to retie her hair.
"You with the navy too?" she muffled around the ribbon in her mouth.
“No," he lied, lifting the tumbler again to take a sip. He looked at her from the corner of his eyes and wondered at her scrutiny.
"I don't believe you," she said, "we only ever get sailors coming in, and the occasional officer or two. As a matter of fact, you remind me of someone."
“Yes, only you're more handsome than he is,” she said, grinning lopsidedly. James read a touch of wistfulness in the expression. "Was," she added afterwards.
"He was a handsome fellow, my brother-"
“Here you go Beth, table seven," interrupted the barman as he slid her two fresh tankards. James watched her as she carried the drinks over to a couple of men who were busy arm-wrestling. When she came back, another load was plunked before her, and James raised his tankard to sip slowly through the foam. He waited for her to talk some more, but the barman kept her busy. The door opened and shut again as men entered and left. Amongst the din, he heard the clatter of a tankard as it hit the floor, followed immediately by the heavy slamming of a thick limb against the table. The victor exploded into laughter and landed weighty slaps upon his opponent's shoulder in the attempt to shake him out of his grumbling. James was reaching into his pocket when the woman swept up beside him again.
“Are you an officer?” she asked, wiping her hands on her apron.
“What makes you think I am one?”
“You have that look about you.”
“Ah,” he said as he reached into his pocket, withdrawing some coins.
"That would be telling."
“Only a man of good rank would be as secretive as that,” she drawled, and James saw her raising her eyebrow again.
“You seem to know a lot about men of good rank.”
"Now that would be telling," she smirked, giving him a quick once-over. "But I wouldn't mind telling you. You look like the sort who would be good at lending an ear..." James chuckled, and decided to play along. It wasn't often he was flirted at in so open a manner.
"I do like tales."
"What kind of tales?" she narrowed her eyes at him playfully, and he leant closer towards her on his arms, pretending at secrecy.
"Tales of men of good rank," he half-whispered, and she reeled back on her feet, feigning shock with the press of fingers over her mouth.
"O sir, you are most terrible," she murmured lowly before resting her hand upon his arm. "But I shall tell you more if you first tell me your name." James glanced up and saw the barman had disappeared, probably slipped away to the back somewhere, turning a blind eye to business as usual. "I have no doubt that it begins with lieutenant." Her fingers stroked over the back of his hand, and the warmth of her touch reminded him of the time Andrew had nervously put his hand over James's upon the quarter deck rail. It was only there for a fraction of a second before he pulled away again, but James could never rid himself of that sensation since.
"What are you thinking of?" she asked, and he looked up from their hands.
"Someone I am beginning to miss much more than I imagined I would," he replied thoughtfully.
"I know how you feel," she said. "I'm missing someone when I shouldn't really be. All men go to sea after all. Only, I worry about this one. He's ever so sensitive sometimes, makes me wonder how he'll survive out there without me."
"Perhaps he ought to reconsider his career. The sea is for men who are able to withstand her abuse."
"I'm sure, though he most likely ran away because he was unable to take mine," she murmured in a suggestive manner, slowly stroking his hand. "I guess I can be too much to handle for some..."
"...then may you find someone capable before the night ends," said James as he slid his hand away from beneath hers and rose swiftly from his seat. Donning his hat, he gave the woman a small smile to soothe her mild indignation at his sudden departure before making his way to the door. Once outside he walked on down the street without any particular destination in mind. Looking back over his shoulder, the dim gold and red banner of The Crown was just about visible from the glow of company indoors. Carrying on, he wondered what would have happened if he had continued to flirt with the barmaid. No doubt one suggestive word would have slipped onto the next, and not long after they would've both been slipping out of the back door and into some dark alleyway. It would've been quick and easy, but not the sort of satisfaction which solved anything. Deep down he was still missing him, and the worst thing was he was now tormenting himself with wondering whether Andrew missed him back with the same ferocity.
He stopped short when the cobbles did, and looked up to see where his aimless wandering had taken him. Under the light of the moon this small harbour looked peaceful and unthreatened by the wrath of nature. Lowering his eyes upon an old rowboat, the mesmeric rhythm of its bobbing somehow only added to his increasing unrest. His mind kept replaying scenes of horrific storms, and memories of Andrew shouting in vain through another blanket of rain; none of the men could hear what he was saying that one time, and nobody could blame them, since even James had to bark across the chaotic tumult until his throat was sore. The next day he had lost his voice, much to his embarrassment, and Andrew had to give his orders for him. Whilst he stood there, watching a little harbour, the Adamant could be steeling herself against harsher times, and he just couldn't stop himself speculating constantly on all sorts of possible mishaps. A scuffling sound distracted him for a second, and he turned his head towards the line of buildings to his right; someone was passing out from an alleyway, and then proceeding to walk, no creep against the wall, staying within its shadow. Something about the figure's stature and suspicious behaviour made James want to follow and investigate, and he slowly began to follow the other from a good distance behind. Eventually they rounded the corner of the last building, and James stepped out after him into the open square. From where he stood he could see the back of the figure, for a moment quite clearly illuminated by the moon's light.
“…Turner?” he murmured to himself, but before he could resume his pace Will had skulked off too quickly for his eyes to tell where.
He found Fry on quarterdeck at the first break of light. The Captain was nowhere to be seen. Men were holystoning and sanding down the deck under the watch of the coxswain. They all worked with looks of grim determination, and the air hummed with the even and methodical sound of hands tending to their tasks, mingled with the grunt or two of effort. When Andrew had first boarded, the first thing he noticed was how perfectly kept the decks where, no matter where he paced. It was good practice to keep the men busy, he supposed, and yet he couldn’t help wondering whether it was perhaps a touch excessive; there must have been a number of jobs they could be doing instead.
“Good morning, Mr Gillette.”
“Good morning, Mr Fry,” Andrew returned as he stepped up beside the taller man, nodding once at the quartermaster who lifted a hand from the wheel to stifle a yawn. He looked embarrassed that Andrew had seen, and cleared his throat before turning his eyes onto the labouring lot. In all his years, Andrew had never served upon a ship with such a dedicated and solemn crew. He remembered serving on a brig once, where the task of holystoning was often accompanied by laughter and much talking, but nobody minded it so much because it was a good sign, apparently; at least, that was what the captain had told him. It was interesting, learning of the different systems upon different ships. Andrew believed he was collecting all the best examples so that one day he could possibly manage his own lot with the utmost efficiency. In all honesty, it used to be a plan which he thought about with much seriousness, when he was just getting used to the commodore, or Captain Norrington, as he had been at the time. If anything happened to James, he wouldn’t let him down.
“Slept well, I hope?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Andrew raised a hand to his jaw, touching where his razor had slipped. The tiny spaces allotted to each officer barely offered them privacy, but it was better than nothing. He tried to remember who occupied the cabin to his right. If that embarrassing ruckus had been the man’s idea of discretion he had much to learn, Andrew harrumphed to himself. Suddenly a memory of something Willis had said aboard the Dauntless brought heat to his face, and made him think twice about judging another. Something damp hit his cheek, and Andrew squinted up at the grey clouds above them.
“A bleak morning,” he muttered.
“It’ll clear soon enough, you’ll see.”
The men were finishing off now, and dispersed in their clusters one by one. A freak shower of rain sluiced the decks, and Andrew breathed in and exhaled deeply through his nose. They passed a long time without speaking, each stood with serious expressions on their faces to match those of the crew as they busied themselves here and there. The rain had lightened to a constant patter, and Andrew remembered that time James had managed to catch cold; his nose had turned the most hilarious shade of red, which only jarred the more with the man’s no-nonsense approach to everything. When he started sneezing, the lieutenants had to turn their faces away so that their superior officer could not see the desperate attempts to stifle their laughter; Andrew remembered overhearing one sailor saying how it must have been some sort of ill omen, “the cap’n sneezin’ so, nobody sneezes that many times all in one go…”. Andrew had always enjoyed the good joke now and again. Aboard the Adamant, the atmosphere was somewhat different. So far the only laughter he’d heard was from the captain himself, and that was only when Fry had opened the door of the great cabin. He remembered the sly look on Harris’s face as he shared what Andrew suspected to be some sort of inside joke with the elder lieutenant, and wondered whether there was in fact a code of humour underlying the stricter, surface one of decorum. The last drops of rain died away and morning broke upon them with a vengeance as the most heavenly light vanquished the clouds at last. The bell tolled, and Andrew watched as the sun washed them anew with its rays.
“Told you so,” murmured Fry. They heard the sound of ascending steps, and turned to greet the captain. Phillip Hunt looked every inch the respected commander, with the great furrows engraved into his brow, and a deep line scouring down each of his cheeks; they lent him a particularly grave air, especially when he frowned, which was most of the time. This morning he looked rather mild in comparison, as he marched towards the quarter deck rail and gripped it with his hands. The man was incredibly tall. When he stood beside James in the office during their formal introduction, the captain was taller by a good few inches. It must have been rather hellish when he had been a lieutenant, Andrew thought idly to himself; how the man would have crammed himself into an officer’s cabin, he had no idea. Apart from the small difference in height, however, Andrew could see the captain as the sort of figure James would eventually grow into. They shared the same mannerism, with that dry wit and cool disdain. Even their voices were similar, only Captain Hunt often growled beneath his breath and set his jaw whenever something was not to his liking.
Without a word from the captain, Fry gestured to Bradley the boatswain, who then shouted from main deck for the men to fall in line. Andrew found his thoughts drifting again, even whilst he watched them strip the offender down to the waist. He couldn’t remember the date precisely, but it had been pouring non-stop for days. A man had been caught stealing, and Andrew had reported to the captain immediately, the rogue having been suspected of ill behaviour for quite some time, but whose punishment had been put off by what Andrew believed to be James’s distaste for flogging. They had stood together like he did now with Fry and the captain, only James had looked utterly miserable that day, with the wind whipping dampness into his eyes whilst he preceded over the entire thing. His green eyes were drawn into cold and emotionless slits as they witnessed the snapping of the cat-o’-nine-tails, but Andrew saw the tiny grimace each time it landed and triggered another cry of pain. The rain kept falling mercilessly, washing the man’s blood down the deck. He remembered James saying later, “I may abide by the rules, Mr. Gillette, but that does not necessarily mean that I enjoy doing it.” His voice was very quiet, and judging from the paleness of his complexion, Andrew knew then how susceptible to guilt James really was.
Andrew counted twenty strokes, and was impressed to hear not so much as an utterance of pain. The muscles in the man’s back strained each time a new blow came, but even as his flesh tore and ran wet with blood, not a single sound left his lips. It was only when they flung a bucket of water at him, that he jerked from the rigging against which he was bound, gasping for his breath as though it had been the worst part of the ordeal. He must have fainted from the agony, Andrew thought. The captain turned and left them without a word. Andrew turned his eyes back upon the man as the others dragged him down below.
“Have you had breakfast, Mr Gillette?”
“Not yet, no.”
He wondered whether breakfast after punishment was the captain’s design. It was a rather beastly way to begin the day, but he supposed it would serve as a good wake-up call, or an early warning amongst the men. Not that he could truly imagine them misbehaving. The thief seemed almost an oddity against the general temperance of the crew, or what he understood it to be thus far; no man wished to step out of line, and if discipline levels were severe, he could see why.
The thin, wooden panelling barely separated them from the sounds of productivity upon the rest of the mess desk. Unlike dining with his old company, here the officers preferred to keep to themselves, and spared barely a word of conversation with one another. Andrew wondered if the men were acting reserved because of his presence. He chewed the morsels of salted meat before swallowing and picking up his glass, taking the chance to glance around the table. The wardroom aboard the Adamant was smaller than that upon the Dauntless, naturally, but the layout was the same, with its central dining table serving as the main area of congregation. At the moment it seemed discussing orders would prove easier than embarking on any rigorous means of conversation. His eyes took in each solemn expression in turn, the men’s faces made somewhat severe by the shadows cast from the lone lantern hung overhead. It squeaked terribly with the ship’s movements, and he wondered why it hadn’t been oiled. Without the noise of conversation the sound was almost painfully conspicuous, and yet nobody but him seemed to notice.
“I hear you have battled the undead, Mr Gillette,” someone spoke up at last, and he looked up from his stew to a somewhat sallow-looking man sat further down the table. Quickly he searched his memory for a name and title; Harris, the Royal Marine officer. He looked too youthful for his post, though he seemed to carry a certain world-weariness upon his sharp, bony features. His dark eyes glinted as they watched him, and Andrew tried not to seem too eager to break the silence by taking his time with a sip of wine.
“Yes,” he said, swallowing and dabbing his mouth with the napkin. “As strange as it may sound.”
Someone snorted loudly, and a man leant back from the table, cradling a glass in his hand. It was the ship’s surgeon, Mr. Phillips. Like the others, he wore a strangely dreary look in his eye, accentuated by dark and severe eyebrows. They were drawn into such a tight knot that Andrew found it impossible to imagine them forming a more amiable line; perhaps Mr. Phillips had never been inclined to stop looking habitually harassed, which was understandable considering his profession.
“There are far too many strange tales of the sea,” the surgeon commented dryly as he raised his glass and gulped a large mouthful. The three deep and distinct lines in his brow looked as though they had been put there by a blade; the receded hairline showed them off like battle scars. Andrew noticed how nobody else at the table seemed to be listening in, most of them continuing to finish their meals as though it were just another task to be completed. Even the officer who had spoken first, now had his eyes turned away with indifference.
“Perhaps you would care to share some?” he suggested lightly, and found the cold, beady gaze falling upon his person.
“I apologise, Mr Gillette, but I'm not a very good story teller.”
Andrew felt himself stiffening under the surgeon’s tone; it was not openly hostile, and yet it was laced with scepticism nonetheless.
“What did they look like, the undead?” a new voice joined in from his right; Mr Wilson, who had thus far received his new senior lieutenant with a total of one utterance and two terse nods, was now regarding him with a bored look. Andrew felt himself beginning to bristle under the skin. Someone lowered their cutlery noisily against the plate, and the clatter sliced through the air, which had suddenly seemed to become laden with unpleasant undertones. He wanted to change the subject. Both Phillips and Wilson seemed to be challenging the credibility of his account; the subtlety of their manners did not escape him one bit, having gained much experience from attempting to read the commodore’s mind through his each and every grimace. Luckily he was saved by the late appearance of the first lieutenant. The bustle from the men at their mess tables poured in immediately through the panel doors as the tall figure let himself in. Mr. Phillips cleared his throat softly, and Wilson turned his eyes upon his superior like the rest of them who nodded briefly and uttered their quiet addresses.
“Mr Fry,” Andrew addressed him similarly as the elder man strode over to take his seat at the head of the table.
“Gentlemen,” he returned the formality as the steward brought out his stew. They sat and finished eating in the senior lieutenant’s presence, staying long enough for another drink or two, and the odd game of cards before one by one they dismissed themselves from the table. Andrew watched as Harris yawned and shuffled the cards in those peculiarly delicate and pale hands of his. The Marine officer glanced up and met his eye.
“Shall I leave them for your use?” he asked.
“No, it’s-” Andrew began to say, when the other remaining company broke in.
“If you don’t mind, Mr Harris. I would like to play a hand or two with Mr Gillette.”
“Very well. The queen of hearts is missing, though,” the young man broke into a somewhat sly smile, and Andrew saw Fry chuckling as he raised another spoonful to his lips.
“So long as the king remains, all will be well.”
Andrew caught the worn, tatty pack as Harris slid it down the table effortlessly; the servant boy managed to raise the pitcher out of its way just in time.
“I’m sure. Good evening to you gentlemen,” the officer dipped his chin before raising from the table and making his way over to the door of his cabin.
“So,” the low voice drew his attention back to the table, and he found himself watching the heavy mess of scars criss-crossing almost every knuckle. Andrew glanced briefly down at his own hands and noted how relatively clean they were in comparison. “How do you find her?”
“Very well. The men seem exceptionally disciplined…I was a little surprised to find that my presence did not stir a single brow. Indeed, they carried on as though I had always been their instructor.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear that,” said Fry as he picked up his glass; Andrew saw that he had finished his meal in a matter of minutes. Dining itself was not a leisurely act, then, at least not for the officers of the Adamant. “Of course, if they behaved any different I daresay they would feel it,” the man murmured, and Andrew tapped the cards out into his hand.
“I understand the captain prizes himself on discipline.”
“Naturally. It is the backbone of conduct, after all.”
“Yes, I agree,” he tapped the worn edges against the table and smoothed back some folded corners.
“Although not all of us are perfect exemplars, I’m afraid.”
“No…” Andrew uttered as he shuffled, remembering Mr. Phillip’s almost accusatory comments, and wondering whether Fry had the same individuals in mind.
“Tell me, Mr Gillette,” he leant forwards upon his elbows, swirling the last sip in his glass. “Was your old wardroom ever as fun as ours?” he smiled ironically, and Andrew lofted his brows at the rare expression, taking it as a sign for one to relax. He sucked in a breath and released it noisily; the sound said it all, and Fry chuckled. Andrew began to feel increasingly at ease within the other man’s presence. As serious as he appeared, he did not make you feel as self-conscious and constantly on guard as the others did.
“The general display of stoicism is admirable,” Andrew said lightly, and the lieutenant snorted before gesturing to the boy for a refill.
“Funny, but the triviality of banter hadn’t crossed my mind until you came along."
Andrew blushed and cleared his throat, tapping the cards loudly against the table.
“If I remember correctly it was in fact you who approached first with lines of poesy,” he retorted mildly, and saw the fair brows lofting.
“Ah, yes, you are right, I suppose romance could be considered my weakness…” the voice retained its ironic tone, and yet the pale eyes drifted thoughtfully onto the glowing lantern. “…as hard as it is to believe. One wouldn’t usually marry stoicism with romance, I don’t think.”
Andrew suddenly thought of his commanding officer, and wondered what he was doing this very moment.
“I think all men are susceptible to the gentler natures of the human heart, despite the grim truth of experience which often works against them…” he murmured.
“Spoken like a true romantic.”
Andrew was about to protest when Fry released a heavy sigh and leant back in his chair.
“My wife used to play tunes like Greensleeves all the time…it used to drive me mad,” he grunted, “she had an ear for melancholy, a guest once said, and I asked her never to play it again lest people suspected there was something wrong with our marriage…”
Andrew laughed politely, turning the deck of cards slowly in his hands.
“And did she stop?” he asked.
“Not a chance. The woman continued to ignore my protests until the very end.”
“Ah…” Andrew stopped playing with the cards and studied the eight of clubs.
“Came back from one disastrously long voyage and she was gone. Had been for a year.”
“How terrible…” he uttered quietly. There was a pause as Fry fell to musing; Andrew looked over and saw those pale eyes narrowed and locked upon the lantern, which was squeaking all over again upon its hinge. Perhaps the incident of his wife’s death was the main cause of the lieutenant’s scepticism for the ignorant romanticising of the navy.
“Are you a married man, Mr Gillette?”
“Not yet, I’m afraid.”
“Waiting upon the perfect creature with connections in the Admiralty?” asked Fry dryly as he watched Andrew with a face devoid of emotion.
“Well I…have met with such a creature…” he began to say before he could stop himself, “…most respectable connections…yet…” Andrew paused and glanced down at the cards, clearing his throat as he realised how ridiculous he sounded.
“So you were lying before.”
“Clearly she must be of notable status, for you to react so defensively.”
Andrew felt his brow contorting and he picked up his glass to take a long sip of wine.
“…I suppose that is true,” he spoke quietly, almost into the glass itself, “to an extent…”
Fry suddenly chuckled, spreading out his large hands upon the table to smooth out the faintest crease in the tablecloth before gesturing for the cards.
“I apologise,” he said as Andrew handed over the deck. “I do not mean to pry.”
“No, it’s quite alright…it is…quite refreshing, I think…in a way…to speak on it.”
“I see. There is the saying, I believe…a trouble shared, is a trouble halved.”
Andrew snorted as he watched him deal.
“In my experience it is rather doubled…”
“Is that so.”
He pushed his glass to one side and rested his elbow upon the table.
“Neither of us can seem to break free from our confines…at least, that’s the trouble we share,” Andrew murmured as he leant his head against his hand, eyes upon the growing pile of cards in front of him. “At times I cannot help feeling as though there’ll always be something on the verge of…well…perhaps I am simply exaggerating. But it can be hard, nonetheless.”
“Not as hard as apprehending the vagueness of your words. Ah, there I go again. I seem to do it without knowing. Perhaps that is why Mr Wilson prefers to keep his distance.”
Andrew thought about how he much preferred Fry's company to that of the younger lieutenant’s; there was an air of hidden arrogance about the latter which didn’t sit well with him.
“It’s quite alright…though I would only bore you to tears if I carried on. Come, let us play. I do believe you owe me a story, Mr Fry.”
The man arched a fair eyebrow as he spread his hand into an even fan.
“I prefer not to encourage further lovesickness in a fellow officer,” he muttered, scratching his jaw as he regarded the cards coolly. Andrew turned his own eyes upon his hand and reached up to itch his wig with a frown.
“Mr. Phillips apparently knows an abundance of sea tales,” he grunted at the memory of the suspected slighting, “though he is not keen on sharing any of them, it seems.”
“A man of his profession is bound to be less susceptible to superstition than others, Mr Gillette, especially if one considers the amount of men he has witnessed dying upon his table over the years…you don’t get a harder truth than that.”
“I suppose you are right,” Andrew nodded as he shifted a couple of cards to the right, wondering whether he had in fact read too much into the surgeon’s behaviour earlier.
“After you, Mr Gillette.”
As usual, James was on stand-by at the fort, ready for the occasion when his men would come seeking his consent for action, even his personal aid if it was required. After a detour down to the docks to check up on the progress of the repairs being done to the brigs, James made his way back briskly to the coolness of his own office, followed by a flustered-looking Weatherby.
Once they closed the door to his office, James shrugged hurriedly out of his coat and immediately opened the bottom drawer of his desk whilst the governor plunked himself down in the chair opposite, and started pulling out a white cloth from his sleeve to dab at his brow. James straightened up again to slide two clean glasses onto the desk, a bottle clutched in his other hand.
'Afternoon top up?' he asked, and the other man half sighed, half laughed in relief.
'Ohh, yes, before one wilts.'
As James poured, Weatherby took of his hat, and he did think the feathers on it were drooping more than usual. He also couldn't help thinking how much excess heat the other man's wig must have trapped. If he thought his head itched terribly, imagine how bad it must have been for someone wearing such a generous amount of pretty curls.
'So a matter of weeks, you say?” asked Weatherby as James came over and handed him his glass.
“Yes, although if you recall your own journey, one hardly notices,” James replied with a smile before raising his own glass to his lips. Weatherby leant back slowly in his chair, and appeared to stare off into his thoughts as he took a sip.
“I suppose…although knowing old Bess, she'd probably kick up a fuss about something or other,” he murmured to himself, and James leant his hip against the edge of his desk, wondering about the governor's familiar nick for Lady Bertram. He gave his glass a swirl, but Weatherby didn't continue, instead looking a little more solemn the more he concentrated on his thoughts. James followed the man's line of sight, and found it focused on a painting of some ships hung on the wall behind him. It was easy to see he wasn't admiring it, though.
“You are anxious about something, governor?”
'Hm?' Weatherby uttered as his eyes darted away from the painting and onto the figure stood opposite.
'I said, you seem somewhat anxious,' repeated James.
'Oh, just to see them, I suppose,' he said, glancing off into some unfathomable distance again. James shifted his weight onto the other foot as he waited for the pause to pass again. 'It has been too long, really, and dear Frederick...well...the lad only came up to about here, the last I,' he was saying, but paused with his arm half outstretched to indicate how tall the younger Frederick would have been. He sank back against the chair again with a sigh, and closed his eyes as he rubbed at his brow with his knuckles. James glanced down thoughtfully at the contents of his glass.
“By all means, governor, you may feel at ease to speak of whatever you wish in my company.”
'I fear I talk too much in your company, in all honesty,' chuckled Weatherby with a somewhat worried expression. 'You are almost like a father to confide in at times, I daresay.'
'Feel most free to confess your sins to me any time,' joked James, but what he said seemed to have hit a nerve, for the governor suddenly frowned and gave out a quiet groan as he leant forwards upon the arm of the chair and pressed his lowering brow into a hand. Worried, James felt his back stiffen as he lowered his glass to the desk.
'Are you quite alright?'
'I should have got myself a real father,' Weatherby grunted, and dropped his hand to meet James in the eye. 'Do I come across as a hypocrite to you?'
A little surprised by the question, James paused.
'I...wouldn't say so...'
'Hmph, well 'lisbeth will disagree with you, I'll bet you anything,' muttered the governor. 'Although this time she might actually have a point.'
Intrigued now, James gripped the edge of his desk with his hands to keep himself from beginning to pace around his room, something he always did when he tried to suss out puzzles and mysteries. He took a mild relish in the pondering, since such intrigues were usually rare to come by. That, or this somewhat uncharacteristic interest in another man's affairs was proof of his building desire for another's constant company.
'What reason would Elizabeth have to judge you...?' asked James, and was further thrown by Weatherby's brief, troubled laugh, before he met with an expression in the elder man's eyes that seemed to be assessing whether or not he could trust James with his answer.
'Well I'm guessing she will no doubt question my authority in choosing what I deem to be the best possible suitor for her, once she learns her own father had been just as stubborn as,' he was beginning to explain, but then stopped with a sharp, aggitated sigh and a dismissive flick from his hand. 'Oh I was young then, name me a man who hasn't made mistakes in his youth!'
James felt a bit embarrassed by the other's small outburst, but didn't want to discourage the governor from his talk, nor the impression the man had of James as someone trustworthy enough to confide in about his less glamorous affairs - perhaps even in the literal sense. At least that was what this all appeared to be heading towards, James thought to himself, and sure enough he could see what the governor meant about Elizabeth reacting in a non-too mild way if she were to find out.
'Please, forget I said anything, I do prattle on most foolishly at times, I think it's the heat, you know,' said Weatherby hurriedly with a shake from both his head and hand. He moved so fast, the last mouthful of his claret swished out of his glass and made a damp spot on the carpet where it landed. Gripping at the ends of the armrests, he was about to stand when James spoke up to try and put him more at ease.
“It's quite alright governor, I suppose they say speaking one’s problems aloud can help put them into proportion,” said James, and he pondered over the advice, believing it sounded convincing yet contradictory to his own personal preference to do just the opposite; brooding on his problems alone, keeping all at a constant arm’s length away. 'And you can be sure I will not speak a word of your troubles to anyone.'
'Yes, well,' said Weatherby quietly as he stood up and knitted his eyebrows together whilst he itched under his wig. 'I trust you won't.'
After the governor left the office, James paced over to the nearest window and gazed out at the bay, and the busy bodies littered around it. He couldn't help comparing the weight of wrongdoing in what he suspected was an affair in the governor's case, with that of his own. The timing of an old flame's return, along with child, was curious, and James didn't much like the thought of Elizabeth getting grief from learning this, but still he could not help feeling that these troubles of the Swanns paled in comparison to the fears of discovery which continued to plague him constantly, no matter how much he tried to forget about it.
And now that Andrew had left with the Adamant, he noticed he was suddenly and most irrationally missing him and longing for him far too early, and far too much for his own liking. This new slavish pining of that weaker part of his resolve both irritated and worried him, and he knew that come night, alone in his bed, he would not be able to sleep again until he had prayed for with the one he feared the most, beseeching him to protect and return to him the one person who he hadn't realised could ever come to mean so much to him.
“Alas, my love, you do me wrong, to cast me off discourteously."
Andrew turned his face and squinted under the bright glare of the sun at the tall figure striding up to the rail.
"You look surprised, Mr Gillette. Is my poesy not to your taste?"
Pale blue eyes watched him coolly.
“I didn't see you as a man of poetry, sir.”
He looked away towards the disappearing bay, and Andrew wondered if he had offended him.There was something sombre about the elder man’s presence, Andrew thought to himself. Something almost ominous in that dark, crinkled brow, which seemed to affect even those around him with its solemn gravity. The hands which spread out upon the rail were greatly weathered, showing signs of wear and tear over the years; each fine, raised line, was a record of past confrontation.
“Then what kind of a man do you see me as, Mr Gillette.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I simply meant that you seem too practical to be taken by such frivolities.” Andrew pushed up from the rail and straightened his back. The older man chuckled, but it was not a jovial sort of sound. It was more ironic, a sceptical sort of rumble; one which seemed to mark out the superior standing of a senior officer. Andrew felt his brows knotting.
“If I really considered poetry frivolous,” he said with the faintest of smiles, “I would not have made the attempt at conversation.”
Andrew felt his head itch under his wig, but resisted the urge to scratch. What was the man talking about? He hadn't said anything to give him the idea that he liked poetry; in fact he hadn't been saying anything at all, preferring to brood in silence as he watched back at the bay and thought about what he was leaving behind.
“I apologise, I’m afraid I have a lot on my mind,” he uttered somewhat awkwardly. The lieutenant shifted to lean down casually upon the rail.
“I thought I could recognise that old look of melancholy.”
“A good time at sea ought to dispel it.”
“…do I really seem so ill spirited?”
“You’re not the only one,” one of his large nicked hands reached back into his coat, “as you shall soon come to hear. The Captain himself is sick with pining ever since we left England.”
Andrew watched the vague speck Port Royal had become. How did the man know his thoughts? Suddenly those pale eyes seemed dangerous, much too perceptive.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you are talking about,” he muttered warily, and heard that chuckle again.
“Then you are not pining over a loved one?”
The hand withdrew a silver snuff-box, similar in its design to Lieutenant Willis’s.
“No. And I don't know how you have managed to come to that conclusion, sir.”
Fair eyebrows lofted casually, and Andrew felt himself bristling under that piercing gaze.
“Ah. My mistake, then. I always thought Greensleeves a tune for the lovesick.”
“O,” Andrew felt the tension dropping from his brow, “you were referring to my whistling all this time?”
“I don't recite lyrics of thwarted love to my fellow officers on a daily basis, just so you know.”
Andrew laughed, feeling less on edge, knowing the other was simply making idle conversation. How silly of him, to think he was being attacked when the lieutenant was only making some effort to know the new officer a little better. The willingness to share gossip upon the Captain should’ve told him that Fry was not a hostile competitor.
“Forgive me, I have a tendency of becoming defensive rather quickly.”
“And perhaps I am too quick to assume. It is not an uncommon tune after all.”
“So...thwarted love, did you say?”
“Men of practicality shouldn’t waste time on such frivolous things.”
Andrew laughed, suddenly wishing James was there, so he could share the little inside joke; how ironic that their tune should be about thwarted love, as opposed to some innocent nursery ryhme which he had thought it to be.
"Though I must say, being a practical officer doesn’t make one opposed to feeling entirely.”
“No, of course not.”
“I’d imagine the song’s composer wouldn’t have considered his a frivolous occupation at the time.”
“You have worked up my curiosity, sir.”
“I shall explain over dinner, now that I have met with a fellow romantic.”
He was about to say how much he disliked poetry, when the joviality ebbed from the other man's voice, and it was replaced with a tone which matched the seriousness of his pensive expression.
“Wouldn’t you say the navy itself has been somewhat romanticised? The great ship and her brave crew, raging epic war out in the open sea, far away from the rest of civilisation.”
Andrew squinted from the glare bouncing off the vivid expanse of sea before them.
“I suppose it is, when one puts it that way...”
“They hear word of another heroic victory, but who remembers those who have gained nothing but watery graves…leaving no mark for the poor souls back home to visit and remember…"
"Yes...it is most unfortunate..."
"...but perhaps I am raining upon our spirits," the man straightened up and turned to grin somewhat grimly at him. "One shouldn’t speak so negatively during the early days of a voyage after all."
Andrew felt uneasy, and wanted to ask whether Lieutenant Fry had lost someone important the last time he sailed. It seemed odd for him to welcome a new officer aboard the ship in such a gloomy manner. He wasn't unfriendly, and at least made more of an effort than Lieutenant Wilson had, but Andrew would have appreciated something less...pressing. It was bad enough trying not to think about his commanding officer too much, but the other's reminder of their mortality and the reality of battle struck a sharp note in his own brain. He was not an inexperienced sapling. He knew what it was like to watch men around him dying in the heat of battle. It just made him that bit more apprehensive now that he had someone waiting for him back home.
James watched from the doorway as Elizabeth tinkered on the piano. She was humming along to the melody in that absent-minded way that one does when in love. Funny how it didn’t seem so long ago, when James had hoped he could be the one to occupy her mind just so.
“I had no idea you played so well,” he said quietly once she finished. The slender neck turned, and James marvelled for a moment at the weight it supported, unable to help noticing the additional hairpieces which were largely absent during his own past visits.
Her dark eyes were wary, but he turned his own gaze upon the window with the faintest of smiles.
“It’s too pleasant a day to be spent indoors.”
She rose from the seat and lowered the lid of the piano.
“I agree,” she turned and clasped her hands together, smiling just a touch awkwardly. “Perhaps we could take a walk out in the garden?”
“That’s quite alright,” he smiled, “I wouldn’t want to whisk you away from any appointments which you may have.”
“James,” she swept closer and rested her hand upon his sleeve. “You don’t have to be so polite…come take a walk with me. I insist.” He watched the proud lift of her chin, a gesture he had seen so many times before, and wondered at the show of generosity. It was as though she was willing to be his friend, now that it was established he would no longer be harassing her with the advances of a potential suitor. He was no longer considered a threat. To what, exactly? Her independence? Did she see him as another oppressive enforcer of the established patriarchy? Now he was considered second rate to Will Turner, but a man who still deserved her respect because he admitted it gracefully. Deep down, of course, he still burned with indignation. But she had helped him, in a way, to see beyond what would have been.
“I would be delighted…”
They were interrupted by the maid’s appearance.
“Mr. Turner, miss, he says he’s waiting for you in the garden.”
“O, tell him I shall be there shortly.”
The woman glanced briefly from Elizabeth to James as she did a small curtsy, then left. James shook his head at the apologetic smile.
“It’s quite alright. Perhaps some other time.”
“You know, James, you mustn’t let all this prevent you from visiting,” she said quietly. “It is very much father’s hope that we maintain good relations…and I would like us to be friends, still.”
“I hope…you had not found me too overly unpleasant in the past…”
“Not at all. And you may rest assured,” James smiled and looked up from his shoes, “I prefer to look ahead rather than dwell on what’s past…and perhaps you ought to go now, before Will gets worried.”
“Thank you, James…you always were the perfect gentleman,” she smiled at him with a mixture of gratitude and sarcasm before peering out into the corridor. “Where has father gone now…”
“Don’t trouble yourself, I can wait for him here.”
“Yes…well,” she looked back and up at him, and touched his arm. “Thank you again, for being so understanding.”
“Not at all. Enjoy your walk.”
She smiled and the hand slipped away. James watched her sweep past and down the full length of the corridor until she disappeared, then strode into the room. Bright light streamed in through the windows, and James suddenly felt like he should be back at the Fort. He knew there was nothing major which required his seeing to, but his purpose of such an idle afternoon visit was mostly to satisfy the Governor’s request. His mind had been on the Adamant since she left port, and he had trouble remembering what it was exactly that Weatherby had wanted to see him about. At least he managed to confirm a sense of mutual understanding between himself and Elizabeth. He was glad to find that he harboured no jealous thoughts regarding the young lovers, yet thinking about their easy courtship made him frown. Will was a blacksmith. The only thing which separated him from Elizabeth was a carriage ride.
“Look on the sea and think of me…as I shall of you.”
His eyes fell back upon the piano, and he walked towards it slowly, reaching out to run his hand along the polished planes of wood. He lifted the lid silently and touched the keys.
“I did not know you played, commodore.”
James smiled and looked up to the figure stood at the door.
“Not since I was a boy.”
Weatherby was looking hot and flustered, and he strode into the room dabbing his brow with a handkerchief.
“Yes, I was never much good myself, and neither, I’m afraid, is Elizabeth, despite all those lessons I’ve lavished upon her-”
“She was playing before, and it sounded quite delightful.”
“Pah,” the governor plunked himself down into an armchair, “she used to throw tantrums at the old music teacher and make the most monstrous racket on the thing. Now she’s grown into an even more wayward…would you care for some refreshment?” the governor realised he was falling into the habitual ramble about his daughter to a man who no longer had a reason to want to know. James smiled politely, and held his hands behind his back as he looked towards the windows again.
“No, thank you, governor. One shouldn’t return to the Fort drunk, even if at times it seems there is nothing better to do than to drink away a somewhat dull afternoon…”
“Ah yes, the Adamant should be well on her way now, isn’t that right?”
“Yes, she left upon a leading wind.”
“Good, good. We shall wish Captain Hunt the best of luck for his mission,” he said airily as he tucked his handkerchief away again. “Though I called you here, commodore, regarding some personal business.”
“An acquaintance of mine, the honourable Lady Bertram, wishes to pay us a visit...I believe she has expressed much enthusiasm about the possibility of migration, unless I am reading too much into the letters. I am rather keen to impress her, however…” he lofted his brows at James.
“And I could think of no better way to do so, than to send her one of the navy’s finest...”
“Of course. Will she be travelling alone?”
“O no,” the governor blushed, “no, she has a son, Frederick, a fine young lad.”
“And the father?”
“O, he died quite a few years back.”
“We were close friends back in England. I was always much impressed by the grandeur of her lifestyle, though now I wish to return the favour...”
James saw a rather wistful look surfacing in the governor’s eyes, and started to think about his own home back in England.
“You may rely on me, governor, to ensure that Lady Bertram and her son has a fast and safe journey. I guarantee that they shall arrive on our shores very much enthused.”
“Good, good,” he beamed and rose up from the chair. “Although try not to mention the battle aboard the Dauntless…? I wouldn’t want to frighten the good woman with tales of the undead…”
“No, of course not.”
“Very well, then,” Weatherby heaved a sigh and nodded, “I shall write and inform Lady Bertram of the arrangement.”
“Very well, governor.”
He smiled, and looked at him admirably; James felt a faint glow starting in his chest beneath that almost fatherly gaze. And to think he came that close to becoming his son-in-law. The man was pompous and had a tendency for prattling on at times, but James quite enjoyed his company nonetheless, and it was nice to be valued as a friend despite his thwarted role as the most eligible suitor.
The girl stopped and turned around again.
James paused for a moment as she waited, brown eyes patient and attentive. For a second he almost thought to ask if she would join him at the table for dinner, or if indeed any of the others cared to break their bread, and share mundane tales with the master of the house.
“Could you bring me some more water, please.”
He watched her slip out of the dining room, then turned back with a sigh to his dinner. Picking up the knife and fork, he cut into his steak and stopped when the pink fluid pooled out onto the plate. Somehow it did not look as appetising as he had wished. The sight of blood troubled him, and he found his thoughts settling once more upon the Adamant. He looked down the length of the table, at the empty chair sat at the opposing end.
“I am beginning to see why Maria said it is rare for guests to be invited for dinner…”
Captain Hunt was a respected man, and he had a total of three capable lieutenants with him aboard the ship. The crew would be experienced and well disciplined. There would be no hesitation when the Captain gave the word to open fire, and the men would launch their attack in an orderly and precise fashion, probably under the supervision of the new lieutenant himself. The madness would be over in a matter of minutes, and the steady winds of victory shall make sure the Adamant makes a safe and speedy return. There would be a minimal amount of casualties, due to the efficiency of the crew, and he would invite Captain Hunt and the other officers to dine at his house to celebrate their successful mission. Perhaps it could turn into a small, contained party, with guests staying over in his many well furnished rooms. A rascally officer would slip off upstairs with a giggling female, but he would turn a blind eye. Under the general ruckus of merry company, he would catch that one particular person’s eye, and hold it all through the night, hoping he could express through his gaze alone, how much he had missed him. Maria came back into the room, and James raised the fork to his mouth, chewed, and swallowed; the slight tang of the meat made him think of kissing starved and split lips.
James turned over onto his side and stared at the flame of the candle. Closing his eyes, he remembered the tone of his voice, the change in his gaze as possessive need flickered across its deep, dark depths. He thought of the familiar scents, of the sound of their mingled breaths. With a weighty sigh he lifted his head off the pillow and pinched out the flame of the candle at his bedside.
Darkness descended upon the room, and Andrew's playful chuckle came back to him hauntingly, followed by that secret, almost pained utterance of bliss during those last moments, of that laboured breath blowing against the back of his ear. James swallowed and realised how dry his throat had become. He felt as though something had been squeezed out of him, and he panicked at the unmistakable void left in his mind by the other's absence, at the speed with which it grew and threatened to consume his every thought. There was no denying its presence, no matter what front he fought to maintain.
“Be safe,” he whispered into the dark, wondering if mere words could ever travel across heroic distances. He closed his eyes and imagined his face and prayed for a safe return journey for the fifth time. “I love you."
He felt himself falling down towards the bloody deck when a hand grabbed his shoulder and shook him awake.
“What...? what time is it?” he croaked suddenly, more out of habit and feeling a bit confused as his eyes focused under the dimness from the bedside candle.
"Time to make a move."
Turning his head he saw James sit up and raise his hand to stifle a yawn. Through the dimness he could make out those dark locks of tousled hair, and remembered having his nose buried in the soft tresses, breathing in greedily another man's scent of stale sweat and something unique only to them. With a grumble of discontent beneath his breath, Andrew rubbed a hand over his face and sagged lower against the bed. He was still sore from their last bout, although James only managed to subdue him because Andrew let him. James had handled him almost viciously, and he suspected it had something to do with him releasing his frustrations from being pressed into submission by Andrew earlier on. It seemed pride was something no man would want to sacrifice, not even for a second to the person sharing his bed and those dark and ugly secrets. He watched James run a hand through his hair and push aside the sheets to swing his long legs out of the bed.
“It’s still dark,” he muttered, protesting because he could.
"That's precisely the point," replied James. He watched the contours forming the long stretch of James’s back as he sat on the edge, revealed to him by the flickering and feeble candlelight. "Best way to go unnoticed."
“Like a couple of bleeding pirates,” Andrew snorted, finally giving up the temptation of dragging the other back down into bed and untangling himself from the hazardous sheets.
“I resent the comparison,” said James in his standard monotone, and Andrew watched him pacing towards the nearest bedroom window.
His eyes fell upon James's uniform, draped neatly over the chair propped against the wall beside the window, and scoffed at the sight. Something about the orderliness annoyed him. Could the man not afford to relax, even in a house where the only inhabitants were themselves? Granted they still had to escape the neighbourhood unnoticed, but here, in the private space of his very bedroom, couldn't they at least savour something of this rare meeting? Nobody liked wallowing in the aftermath of their own sweat and filth, for sure, but as sordid as it was it belonged to them. Here they could finally afford to have some peace of mind before things returned to normal, and he would have to recall the service of the servants before they scorned him for taking away their livelihood. Now that he was about to leave port, he wondered if he ought to send the letter out requesting them to come back, or wait until after he'd returned; he still didn't completely trust the lot of them.
And besides, he didn't even know how long precisely he would be at sea for. James certainly didn't seem to be worried about it. Fairly soon he would be answering to Captain Hunt and testing the waters with the other officers. He could see himself now, boarding the Adamant. He would turn around and wave a hand back at Theodore, Willis, anyone else watching, not least the commodore himself whilst grinning with clenched teeth, and uttering a curse behind them. Something like "May you fairly itch for me on your lonesome nights", perhaps. Or, "May you sigh and toss restlessly every night whilst I'm gone." Yes, that sounded about right, he thought.
"What?" asked James. Andrew looked up at him and was disgusted to find the man nearly all ready; a pox on his efficiency, he thought. Was he really so damned eager to go?
“What?" he echoed as he sat down on the edge of the bed with his stockings.
"You said something just then."
"Did I? Hm, I really ought to have these mended..."
"I don't know how you've managed so far without a maid at the least," James muttered as he turned to peer past a gap in the curtains.
"I'm no clearer than you are on that," huffed Andrew as he tugged the material up his leg. "For she sure had no qualms about being flung down and ruffled," he continued to say airily. "None whatsoever."
“If you don’t hurry we’ll risk being caught.”
"She used to serve me breakfast in bed, too," he said, getting into his breeches and standing up to button them. "Tea with sugar and two kisses."
"Sounds delightful," said James dryly, leaving the curtains to find his shoes. "Why on earth did you let her go?"
"Oh I couldn't say," Andrew replied nonchantly. "I suppose somehow I thought I'd have enough to wake up to." He pulled his waistcoat up over his shoulders and started buttoning up, turning towards James.
"Escaping unseen, with our skins intact would be reason enough I would have thought."
"Hm. I miss my tea already," he muttered, reaching for his rumpled cravat. James strode over and tugged it swiftly from his hand.
"Sugar, with two kisses?" said James as he pulled the material taut between his hands and hooked it around Andrew's neck.
"Three," murmured Andrew with a small lift to a corner of his lips. He lifted his chin as James slid the knot fast and pulled it tight. Their eyes met, and he added, "Maybe four."
Andrew grinned to himself as James walked past to find his shoes. He started searching for his wig, and found it under the bed; he must have kicked it there by accident. Grabbing the candle he got on his knees and tried to locate the pins.
"What have you lost?"
"Come to my office."
"You have a hidden dresser in your office?" asked Andrew as he turned his head.
"You left one or two behind," said James coolly, though Andrew saw that little twitch at the corner of his lips. "They're sitting there in my bottom drawer."
"And you're keeping them for what purpose exactly?"
"I've not kept a memento before."
Andrew snorted and straightened up.
"For a moment I thought we didn't have time for idle nonsense," he said, mimicking the other's droll monotone as he swung the wig around with his hand.
James drummed his fingers upon the desk, wondering what was keeping the lieutenant. Then he saw through his window the familiar uniformed figure, marching into view, and released a small sigh of relief; hopefully they had left a large enough gap between their separate journeys, and that nobody was around to notice them leaving the same front door. He never believed walking to the Fort could prove such an ordeal. At every smallest sound, his head would whip this way and that, his eyes travelling down shadowy lanes, and up at drawn windows, then behind his shoulder every other moment as he quickened his pace whilst trying not to make too much noise with his hurried steps. James massaged his brow with his fingers and shook his head. It was early still, and he wouldn’t have been surprised if some of the men were still in their beds. Sitting down at his desk, he thought about meeting with Captain Hunt and the formal introduction to his most capable and trustworthy lieutenant. He glanced at the window again, saw the dark greyness still enveloping the grounds of the Fort, and suddenly wanted to take another look at the new frigate. Rising from his chair, he shrugged back into his coat and picked up his hat.
Andrew was pacing aimlessly upon the battlements when he found him. The lieutenant was exchanging words with a watcher, who was nodding his head and attempting to stifle a yawn, which he then apologised for afterwards. Andrew looked less broody. James figured he must have sorted the problem with the pins. The air blew over their heads in a warm and steady breeze, which suddenly lifted enough to stir their hats. Andrew’s managed to fall off his head, and he turned around; when he stooped his wig didn’t drop off, and when he looked up, it was to scowl at James’s attempt to hide a smile of amusement. He turned his heels before the soldier noticed his presence, and trusted Andrew to come and find him later.
“What did you say was the name of the French frigate captured by Captain Hunt, sir?”
“The Confiant,” James looked up towards her masts. “She carries twenty-six nine-pounder long guns on a single, covered deck. The Adamant has twenty-eight twelve-pounders, plus six six-pounders up upon quarterdeck and the forecastle.”
“A fifth-rate, then, sir.”
“A handsome one, too.”
“She is,” Andrew squinted towards the ship’s quarterdeck, imagining himself stood amongst the company of Captain Hunt and the two other lieutenants. Come to think of it, he hadn’t spent much time around the men during their first arrival at Port Royal. He only knew their names, Mr Wilson and Mr Fry. Since the latter appeared in his memory as the elder of the two, with a clearly weather-worn appearance suggestive of a large number of years spent at sea, Andrew guessed his own position would probably figure between the two lieutenants in terms of seniority. He couldn’t help wondering whether his own recent experience of fighting deadly pirates combined with supernatural forces should in fact place him before his senior, but the Pearl had moved on, taking with her the strange aura of surrealism; she became the stuff of dreams, like another myth of the seas. And since the normal every-day demanded the use of strict rules and systems with certain traditional codes which must be adhered to, Andrew supposed settling as second-lieutenant would only be quite reasonable. Come another few years, and who would remember their men’s tales about battling a skeleton army aboard the Dauntless as stuff of truth, and not the mad ravings of some deranged poet. It just didn’t quite fit in with the context of the times, although Andrew still believed, deep down, that it remained impossible to know every corner of the deep blue; somewhere, somehow, God was spinning their old wives tales into living flesh.
“I shall miss you,” said James quietly.
Andrew smiled as he listened to the gentle waves lapping at the Adamant’s sides, but said nothing. James remained gazing up at the tallest point of the ship, hands clasped behind his perfectly straight back, eyes beginning to squint as though he had suddenly caught sight of topmen already at work. The wooden platform creaked beneath them, and Andrew glanced around carefully. Morning was finally beginning to settle, and the skies began to break open with its first rays of brilliant light, welcomed by the early gull’s call. Andrew stepped a little closer until their arms almost touched. His hand inched out just enough to brush against the other’s.
“Look on the sea and think of me," he murmured. "As I shall of you.”
“Did you find that in an old volume of poesy?" said James dryly. Andrew clasped his hands together with an indignant snort, feeling the prick of heat upon his face and another upon his pride.
“Look on those blasted pins of yours then-"
“You are ridiculous,” Andrew scoffed but glanced over and saw the faint smile on James’s lips, a half wistful, half worried look in his eyes; he couldn’t quite decide which. He turned his eyes back upon the Adamant, saw the morning’s light beginning to illuminate her every line.
“What is it.”
“Don't do anything unseemly in my absence.”
Andrew felt himself flush up to his hairline at the sound of James’s low, placating chuckle. He felt his jaw tensing and lowered his head.
"You laugh at me."
"Amuse yourself now, but the last laugh belongs to me," he said as he lifted his chin and met James's gaze from the corner of his eye.
"And just how is that fair?" asked James as he looked away again to squint at the ship.
"How do you mean?"
"I've said once already I don't mind you having a wife at each port."
Andrew watched the water as his eyebrows drew into a knot.
"It's different now..."
"Forget it," he said briskly, straightening his back. "If it's your pleasure to meet me at the same level of common debauchery, go ahead, have as many as you wish. However."
He turned his head and met James in the eye.
“I had you first, and I shall have you last, James Norrington, don’t you forget it.”
James frowned and opened his mouth; but nothing came out. No witticism, no dry retort. There was a pause as they watched each other without a word. Then Andrew broke into a grin and touched his hat before turning on his feet to stroll away.
“Here they come, sir.”
James turned his head and felt the breeze whipping past the crest of his cheek. The governor’s words faded away and they all stood in silence for a moment, collectively watching the glorious horizon. Not a cloud or even the speck of a bird marred the vivid blue sky. The sun was a lone companion of the heavens, under which the entire sea reflected and scattered amongst each of its cresting waves the white hot glare of its brilliance. Accepting the glass held out to him, James passed it on to Weatherby, and squinted at the dark shape coming their way.
“Modelled on the French, you say?” the governor pointed the periscope towards the advancing company.
“But better,” James felt his lips curl, and looked at the lieutenant stood at his side, “A handsome addition to our forces, wouldn’t you say, Mr Gillette?” The man’s head whipped back from the sight, and he met Andrew’s excited gaze.
“Inarguably, sir,” he replied, and turned his attention back upon the approaching ship.
Officers and sailors alike crowded the bay, each man wanting to take a good look at the new curiosity. Theo strode up to Andrew, and they heard Willis barking at others to get back to their jobs.
“What do they call her?”
“Adapted from the French?”
“But modified to our needs,” Andrew echoed the commodore, and Theo looked impressed.
“A good size combined with what looks to be a good amount of firepower. Perhaps even a match to the Interceptor for speed.”
“We shall soon find out.”
“And who is the captain?”
James folded his arms and leant his shoulder against the doorframe.
“How do you find Captain Hunt?” he asked, cocking his head to one side as Andrew stepped into the tub. He hissed at the heat of the water and took the edges of the bath to lower himself into a sit.
“A most respectable man,” Andrew replied as he started rubbing water over his arms and looked up at James.
“Indeed,” said James as his eyebrows lofted. “He played a key role in the capture of our first French frigate.”
"Ah. Well I gather his crew must be a proud one,” said Andrew thoughtfully as he soaped beneath his arms. “I know I for one am always glad to be sailing under the best.” He grinned at the man lounging at the doorway.
“You are too kind,” said James with that droll little smile as he shifted his weight onto the other foot, and watched Andrew closely. “How would you feel about joining the admirable captain upon his next expedition?”
Andrew paused with the soap still in his hand.
“Well I," he began to say, trying to read behind James's indifferent expression. "Suppose I would have no reason to refuse,” he said, and felt his brow crinkling. “Does he lack a lieutenant?”
"The captain has...discussed intentions of a trade," James began to explain, and Andrew noticed his eyes had averted to the fireplade.
"One of his, with another of…better experience, I believe was what he said," James murmured with a slight frown. Andrew didn't like the hidden undertones, for he suspected James wasn't giving him the full picture. Slowly he leant forwards to rest his arms upon his knees.
“Surely the captain would have brought only the best to accompany him from England?” he asked, but James only folded his arms.
“Perhaps the journey has raised issues which had hitherto gone unnoticed,” he said smoothly with a shrug from a shoulder. “Either way, we have come to a prompt conclusion.”
"Oh?" said Andrew as he sat quite still in the tub, waiting for him to finish; something told him he wasn't going to like what James would say next.
“As I currently have more than enough capable men at my disposal, it has been decided that the captain shall be shortly joined by your own person,” said James with a faint smile of encouragement, but Andrew didn't know quite how to react.
“I am flattered," he began to say, feeling his brow contort when he saw James beginning to frown, and added out of reflex, "...sir."
"But?" enquired James, regarding him coolly as though to say he could see straight through to the heart of his reluctance. If he was indeed so transparent, thought Andrew, couldn't James deal at least a touch more sympathetically with him? Especially when he should have known well enough the reason for Andrew's wanting to stay.
“Have you considered others, who-”
“Your modesty is quickly becoming a folly,” said James as he took to scrutinising his person. For some unknown reason Andrew suddenly felt uncomfortably exposed, and he swallowed tightly, pretending to ignore the comment as he held the other’s gaze.
“I only mean to draw your attention towards those who have gained much recently in terms of experience and personal development, especially with our last-”
“Do you really think,” said James, cutting him off with a hard look. “That I am not aware of the improvements amongst my own men?” His expression was grave, as though to remind Andrew of his place. And it seemed to work, even if they were in the informal confines of Andrew's own home.
“No sir,” replied Andrew quietly as he averted his gaze to watch the fireplace. “Forgive my impudence.” There was a pause and then he heard a quiet sigh. Andrew felt water droplets sliding off his arm and heard them dripping back into the water. The fireplace crackled, and he saw James push away from the doorway out of the corner of his eye.
“Mr Groves may soon be securing for himself a means of furthering his position within the navy,” James said quietly with suggestion, but Andrew continued watching the flames.
“I am convinced that marriage is not the answer to everything,” he replied stubbornly, but kept his voice submissive.
“No, perhaps not," said James quietly. "And yet the likelihood is more than what some can hope for.”
Andrew pressed his lips together tightly to refrain from saying anything foolish. Another pause, and then he heard the other’s footsteps as James came into the room, and spoke up before they could come too close.
“I'd prefer a promotion based upon merit, rather than the currying of favour,” said Andrew, glancing at James; despite the reflected glimmer of the fireplace, James’s eyes were cold and serious. Andrew looked away again. “Or worse, another man’s guilt.”
“I do believe you forget that this ideal is not always adhered to in practice," said James in a voice more solemn. "That competition sometimes compels even friends to become potential enemies." Andrew chanced a glance at him, and saw James studying the fire with eyes slightly narrowed. "So unless you wish to spend the reminder of your years watching those around you rise in position," he said calmly, turning his eyes on him. "I suggest you stop with your ridiculous show of modesty.”
Andrew watched ahead and felt his lips drawing into a tight line as he sloshed water noisily over his shoulders.
“It is my duty to provide those capable with the chance to prove their abilities," said James matter-of-factly. "Many would be more than happy to hear of an opportunity of action, and I am sure that deep down you are no different.”
Rubbing at the back of his neck, Andrew watched the ripples in the water and nodded slowly.
“I am right to believe you have no objections, then?”
“Very well, I shall inform the captain of your decision."
Andrew nodded again, tried to look grateful whilst knowing either way, James had already decided for him.
“I look forward to meeting Mr Hunt and his crew,” he said somewhat woodenly.
“Indeed. I have heard most impressive accounts of the Adamant," said James, his voice softening as he regarded Andrew. "And they tell me that keeping a strict code of discipline is the good captain's forte. You shouldn't have any trouble getting on. In fact, I believe you shall be rather impressed.”
Andrew returned James's smile with one of his own, but he could not help feeling as though they were still in James's office back at Fort Charles. The soap slipped out of his hand and plopped noisily into the water. He frowned at the inappropriateness of the sound, then berated himself for thinking that way. This was his home, not a formal meeting. He wasn't quite sure what to make of having to keep up with formalities when it was just the two of them. Still, he supposed the showing and giving of respect was routine enough for officers and sailors alike, essential as it was for marking out rank. But what if you became romantically involved with someone of title when you belonged a step lower in the hierarchy? How was it possible to make that mental switch between commander and lover, Andrew asked himself.
“What is the purpose of the expedition?” asked Andrew as he walked across the landing and entered his bedroom. James was sat in the chair beside one of the windows, perusing the bible. The irony of such a sight made Andrew snort, and James opened the drawer of the bedside table and chucked it back in.
“Word came about that one of our sloops have scouted a foreign brig travelling out of her bounds,” he said, shutting the drawer and leaning back in his chair. "We are to block her, but seeing as we do not currently have any ships within her range, what with the patrol brigs returning to dock for repairs, the Adamant shall therefore be sent out on its way again. Her captain appears most eager to take on the assignment."
“A chance to test the new frigate, then,” said Andrew as he walked over to the bed and picked up his night shirt.
“Indeed,” said James quietly, watching him as he pulled the garment over his head. "You ought to call your servants back soon," he said. "It is not healthy to live on your own."
"Do you not prefer me on my own?" countered Andrew lightly as he leant an arm against the bedpost. "I could always ask my maid to come. We could have some fun then," he said carelessly.
"No..." said James as he got up slowly from the chair and paced towards him. Andrew let his eyes close halfway as James approached and laid his hands on his hips. "This is fine."
"By all means, if it suits you, sir," he said dryly, and a crease appeared between James's eyebrows.
"What do you mean?" asked James quietly.
"However you wish it to mean," continued Andrew airily. "I don't really have a say in it either way."
James moved past him and sat down on the bed.
“If you are unhappy about my decision then say so," he muttered, tugging at his cravat.
"What difference would it make whether I'm happy or not," murmured Andrew, turning his back on him. "In all honesty I can’t help but suspect you're only anxious to see me promoted because of your own guilt-”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said James, and Andrew turned around and leant his arm against the bedpost to watch James undoing the buttons of his waistcoat.
"Isn't that why you decided beforehand to ship me off with the Adamant?"
"I made that decision for your benefit," snapped James as he shrugged out of his waistcoat with a frown.
"Your own, rather," retorted Andrew, crossing his arms. "You want me, you don't want me, it would be good to know which exactly it is."
"It isn't as simple as your little dalliances with the maid," uttered James lowly, and Andrew snorted rudely.
"Why sir, are you jealous?"
James growled beneath his breath and stood up from the bed.
"I suggested you to the captain because it is my interest to see to it that your career does not languish on the side like those men whose lack of wisdom cut their own careers short-"
“Who needs wisdom when you only have to go and marry some filly with connections?"
"That is precisely my point."
"What, you think I won't advance in position because I refuse to marry?"
"No, but it's quite clear that-"
"I've botched my career for sodomy?"
"You're at a disadvantage."
"Ironic, that! Considering I'm fucking the commander!"
Anger flashed across James's eyes and he struck him immediately across the face. Blinking slowly at the floor, Andrew raised a hand to his cheek. Then he felt James's hands grip his shoulders and lifted his eyes to see him frowning regretfully at him.
"I...forgive me," uttered James, "I didn't mean-"
But before he could finish, Andrew seized the front of his shirt and shoved him backwards violently. With a sharp intake of breath, James stumbled against the edge of the bed and fell down onto his back. In a second Andrew had his wrists pinned to either side of his head against the sheets.
"I'm not the one at a disadvantage," he said smoothly, voice low as he watched down at James's worried expression.
"Hold your tongue," he snapped, and James looked as though he was about to say something, yet he pressed his lips together in compliance. Andrew brought his face down to his slowly. "You owe me," he murmured as he stopped short from kissing him.
"I'm sorry," James whispered, and Andrew's eyes narrowed.
"I don't want an apology," he said, voice low and dangerous. James started to look reluctant, but Andrew kissed him hungrily before he could protest.
"Wait," James gasped, and Andrew held still for a moment with an impatient sigh.
"What is it?" he breathed with his arms wound tight around James's stiff body.
"I'm not ready..."
"You're being petty-"
"I'm not," James growled under his breath stubbornly, and Andrew reached under with his hand to seize James's prick. A hand instantly darted up to grip over his.
"You're more than ready," he murmured lewdly, parting his lips to trace the back of James's ear with his tongue as he started roughly stroking him and felt the body beneath his shudder.
"I-" James started stammering when Andrew pulled out and thrusted back in. With a low cry of surprise, James pressed against the bed, but Andrew kept his grip on his hips and pulled them back to meet his building rhythm. He saw James's hands moving to clutch white-knuckled at the sheets, and Andrew could feel him tremble as he worked fast to wear down his barriers.
"Stop," he rasped, and Andrew stroked him harder and faster until a whimper slipped past James's lips involuntarily.
"Your body says different," he hissed against the back of his ear. Defeated James buried his face into the pillow as Andrew rocked against his body. They continued without speaking for a while until James finally made a stifled, choking sound, and left Andrew chasing his own completion. Another few seconds of fevered effort later he finally emptied his lust into the other and slumped down against James's back. Realising how hard he had been gripping his hips, he let go to rub gently over the angry red cresents where his nails had dug into James's skin. Panting for his breath, he heard James doing the same beneath him, and reached up to grip and squeeze one of his damp shoulders.
“James?” he murmured. The reply was muffled by the pillow. Andrew pressed a kiss to his shoulder and slowly rolled off him. As James turned away, Andrew stayed still and watched his back for a moment. He felt a pang of guilt, however, and reached out for James's waist and tucked himself up close against his back. He heard James sigh, and slowly slid his arm around him, bringing his face close and pressing his lips against the back of his neck. Listening to the steady rise and fall of James's breathing, he soon drifted off and dreamt vaguely of the Dauntless. When he opened his eyes again James had rolled over in his arms, and they now laid face to face. He could feel James's breath blowing softly against his cheek.
"When I return we must go away for a while," he whispered. "Back to England, where I can show you this place." He felt the faintest brush of fingertips against his stomach, and reached down to grip James's hand. "There's this grove, it's so quiet, we could walk forever and not see another soul."
He remembered the moonlit deck in his dream, glistening with blood. The night stopped for nothing out in the vast and hostile stretches of the sea, and he would be returning to it very soon. He pulled James's hand gently up to his lips.
"We can forget the rest," he whispered against the back of his hand, closing his eyes. "And just...be."
Despite being so close to James, there was something which troubled Andrew deep down. Even though they'd learnt what it felt like to merge and feel themselves become one after the hard labouring between struggling bodies, James still refused to let go of his defences. Even if he was laying naked and shuddering beneath him, Andrew could not get him to bare his soul, no matter how often he would try to either persuade him with gentle words of affection or resort to an act of aggression like before. Whatever he did, James would still carry on trying to maintain some kind of professional distance between them, and though there would be moments when Andrew was apparently free to use his body, and attempt to knit their souls together in those treasured moments of bliss, James still clung stubbornly onto that safety guard, no doubt so he could hide behind it whilst puzzling out the options, the right ways to go about handling a situation as slippery as their's. It went without saying that their position was an absurd paradox. Who did they fool in their attempt to maintain that professional front towards one another even as their bodies transgressed behind closed doors? But Andrew didn't want to challenge James too much. He knew it was part of his personality to try and sort things out rationally, and by the means of his own better judgement. Even if it meant sending Andrew away.
James murmured in his sleep, interrupting his thoughts. Andrew suddenly felt afraid, and clasped James so violently to himself that he started waking up. He felt a confused muffle against his neck, but didn't let go, tightening his arms around him as though it was he who was having the nightmare.
"Andrew?" said James, voice hoarse and confused. Before he could ask what was wrong, Andrew gripped his upper arms and pressed him onto his back before kissing him long and hard. When James finally broke off to catch his breath, Andrew buried his face into his neck and started running his hands all over his body, snatching at his hair, tugging at his hips, prying at his thighs. He wanted to know James needed him, wanted to hear him groan his name as though nothing else in the world mattered. He wanted to somehow calm the turmoil in his heart before he left for his journey, and right now the only way for that to happen was if he could feel once more that crazed desperation between straining bodies, if he could somehow wrench something from those stubborn lips to fill that pained gap in his chest.
Title: The Adamant Snippet Sixteen
Summary: Letting her go.
Characters: James Norrington, Andrew Gillette
Disclaimer: None of the characters belong to me, I only adapt them for entertainment.
Andrew frowned. Having battled the undead out in the horrifically vast sea it seemed now a little surreal to be back home. He folded the letters addressed to his servants into an envelope and then headed out to meet the others at the Crown.
Everybody was making merry and telling unlookers about their latest adventure. Andrew smiled and joined in, letting the pints warm him when nothing else could. Then he saw her again, and she sneaked over to touch his shoulder, asking him how he had been. The men didn’t seem to care so much, some just smirked knowingly before turning to the man beside him and re-telling them the story of the commodore leading them into battle. He brushed her hand away gently, but not before slipping a gold coin into her palm. She took his shake of the head for a yes, and stopped him when he tumbled out of the house hours later, giddy but sad. A hand pulled him into the alley from the rest of the company, and he felt the roughness of brickwork against his back, the cool air on his skin, then a warmth which enveloped him and made him close his eyes. When he opened them again he found her watching him, and slowly weaved his fingers into her hair, wondering whether he could ever settle for this if nothing else.
“Do you miss her?”
“Every Englishman misses his country.”
“You said you didn’t miss it so much now."
"No. Because I have you.”
Andrew pushed the voices to one side in his mind and turned his eyes away from the darkening slither of sky, still glowing ever so faintly between the half-drawn curtains of the bedroom window. He pressed his cheek to the softness of her hair, and closed his eyes with a quiet sigh. Fingers stroked softly against his chest, and he felt her shifting to press closer.
“You're being more romantic than usual tonight,” she chuckled lowly.
“You miss it, being away at sea," he murmured into her hair.
"I do hope you are not falling for me," she said teasingly, and he opened his eyes and looked down at her. "As much as I enjoy being fought between officers."
"I'm beginning to suspect you mistress to every man I know," he chuckled, and she slid down to lay her head in his lap.
"Yes, well," she said airily, shifting about to get comfortable, and he adjusted himself to accomodate her better. "Count yourself lucky that I'm in your bed tonight."
"I do hope you are not falling for me," said Andrew with a grin, and she closed her eyes with a snort.
"Falling for just the one is no fun at all," she scoffed. "You should know."
"I'm about to tell you a secret."
"Oh?" she said, with a curious look.
"You're the first I've had in a very long time."
"You don't believe me?" asked Andrew as she picked herself up into a sit across him.
"Of course not," she said, tugging the edge of her smock (or rather one of his shirts that he had lent her to sleep in) back over one shoulder and narrowing her eyes at him. "You're an officer."
Andrew laughed and folded his arms up behind his head.
"I'm one out of a dozen of port-wives."
"Dear lord, I'm not that rampant!"
"That is a man's secret."
"I thought we were sharing secrets," she said with a pout.
"I've said my goodbyes to many a port-wife."
"Is that so?"
"I'm down to just the one now," he said with a jolly grin. "Not as young as I used to be, I'm afraid."
"That's a lie," she snorted, leaning closer to him again upon her arms. "It can't be that good if you haven't been practicing."
Andrew laughed heartily, and she leant back.
"I charge extra for compliments, by the way."
"I never asked for one!"
"Too~ late," she sang.
"Bah," he grunted, grabbing the pillow beside him and tossing it at her. "Your rates are extortionate. I must find myself a new wife, so my pursestrings tell me."
"But not your heartstrings."
"My heartstrings are tired with overplaying," he said playfully still, yet unable to help his thoughts straying to someone he didn't want to think about. She sighed, looking askance and raised her hand to bite at a nail.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"You just reminded me of something a dirty peasant said to me," she muttered around her thumb.
"Aren't you quite used to handling dirty peasants?" he said jokingly, but she looked glumly at him.
"Do I look like a heartless wench to you?"
"He called you heartless? Why would he do that?"
With a sigh she flopped down on the bed and pressed her hands into her face, shaking her head.
"Because he was right, I am heartless, I didn't shed a tear when I heard about George, nor have I since, even though I wonder sometimes why we were never close, but then how could we be, really-"
"Who's George?" he asked, interrupting her tirade. She stopped shaking her head and sighed, looking at him.
"What happened to him?"
"Hung," she said, watching down at her hand as it laid against the creases of the bedsheets. "By the navy."
Andrew's lips parted before he knew the words. A chill descended on him all of a sudden, sending an outbreak of goosepimples all over his skin. The muscles in his throat seized tight, and he shifted uncomfortably in the bed.
"I sell my body for money, but I'm not heartless," she muttered.
"I'm...sorry about your brother," he finally said, a little hesitantly.
"Yes, well," she said with a sigh. "If it wasn't to be at sea, it would be for something foolish."
Andrew felt himself wincing, and was glad for the dimness of the room.
"But listen to me, how can you say I'm not hard-hearted, talking of my brother so off-handedly like that, granted we never got on, but I never would have wanted such a shameful end for him-"
"It is...most unfortunate," uttered Andrew, frowning when he realised he was repeating what James had said.
"In all honesty," she said, laying her head down as though weary against a hand. "I didn't react whatsoever when Willis mentioned George in some idle talk."
Andrew remained silent.
"Him and some mate of his...I didn't look horrified, or say anything on it, no...just laid in his arms not knowing quite how to feel."
He watched the top of her head, wondering if she knew she had laid with a man who was partly responsible for her brother's death.
"Do you believe in God?" she asked, raising her head to look at him.
"He punished George because he was a sinner. Now that he's gone, I wonder when it will be my turn to be judged..."
Andrew released a breath he had been holding and ran a hand through his hair as he glanced back at the window.
"I doubt you shall be, not for a very long time..."
For a moment she didn't say anything else, and he looked back to find her laying still with her face against her hand, her body tucked up into a foetal position. He felt unbearably awkward, wrong, and wished he hadn't gone to the Crown to begin with.
"That time you wept...there was something else, but I didn't tell you."
"How do you mean?"
She pulled herself up slowly and looked at him with a face void of expression.
"You were having a bad dream, and kept saying James."
Andrew heard himself snatching in a breath.
"You mumbled many things, and I couldn't make sense of it all, but then you said-"
"I love you, so much," she said, her staring eyes making him tense up all over. "Stay, James, please...stay."
"My brother," he uttered quickly. "He's young...inexperienced, wants to enlist but I warned him..." he carried on, wetting his lip under her unwavering gaze, and then looking away. "We all want him to stay at home, but he's so headstrong, he won't listen to us, even if we begged..."
He felt her hand on his arm and he almost jumped.
"You're not very good at lying," she said in a hushed voice, and he met her eye, unnerved by the intensity of her stare. His heart began to race, and he wondered if she could see the physical pounding of it in his chest.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he denied, pulling his arm away from her warily.
“I won’t tell anyone,” she said as he started getting out of the bed.
"What is there to tell?" he replied, keeping his face turned away.
"Drew, I know who James is," she said, a little more forceful this time, stopping him in his tracks.
"He isn't your brother."
He swallowed and slowly perched against the edge of the bed, eyes glued to the floor.
"What else did you hear me say..."
"That was all."
He raised his eyes at her.
"James is my brother," he said slowly, carefully. She sighed and crossed her arms, looking up at the ceiling. "I can prove it to you."
"If it will keep you from running away this instant," she said, meeting him squarely in the eye. "Knowing you're-"
"If you have something to say, say it!" he demanded, voice defensive, almost angry as he pushed forcefully away from the bed.
"Oh stop it, I'm not judging you!" she cried, moving off the bed and standing up.
"Then what are you trying to say?"
"That I'm not threatening you, or wanting to blackmail you, or whatever it is you are thinking!"
He tried to calm himself, and sat down in the chair next to the window. Running both his hands into his hair, he shook his head and uttered quietly,
"What is it you want."
"Nothing," she said, sounding a little insulted. "I just wanted to say that when I first knew, when I was still holding you 'gainst myself whilst you were crying like a babe, I couldn't feel disgusted enough to leave."
He sighed heavily, but she carried on, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
"The more I'm with you I feel as though we're like kindred spirits, you and I. We're not so different, and after they caught George, it made me think...well, just how we're all hiding something away from others, but we can't hide from God."
Andrew lowered his hands and shook his head.
"So what are you saying," he asked quietly, raising his head to look at her. She sighed and stroked the crumpled sheets with a hand, watching the bed.
"I enjoy our time together, and don't see why anything should change...It's comforting, somehow, knowing I'm not the only one damned-"
He snorted abruptly and leant back in the chair.
"You think that's funny?"
"Not at all. I must either laugh or cry," he sighed.
"You can cry on my bosom all you like," she said. "If you'll let me cry on yours."
"What a pair we make," he said quietly. "You could make a fortune out of me..."
"Or I could surprise you as well as myself for being an honest whore."
"Is there such a thing?"
"I guess not...but I'm not heartless."
"Of course not."
They stopped talking, and she fell back against the bed with a heavy sigh.
"Oh George...you always were a fool..." she murmured wistfully.
Andrew closed his eyes and released a sigh himself.
"Aren't we all..."
William Turner was indeed foolish, thought James as he caught up with the cornered couple of rascals; foolish, but brave in his own way.
“I thought we might have to endure some manner of ill-conceived escape attempt, but not from you,” he said.
“On our return to Port Royal, I granted you clemency. And this is how you thank me? By throwing in your lot with him? He’s a pirate!” barked the governor.
“And a good man,” replied Will stubbornly. James lowered his eyes for a second, then regarded both men steadily.
“If all I have achieved here is that the hangman will earn two pairs of boots instead of one, so be it. At least my conscience will be clear.”
For a moment James paused as he felt Will’s words like a physical blow. He frowned, more at himself than the troublemakers.
“You forget your place, Turner,” he said lowly, annoyed at the younger man's nobility.
“It’s right here, between you and Jack,” replied Will, and Elizabeth left James's side to stand beside him.
“As is mine,” she said quietly.
“Elizabeth!" stammered the governor. "Lower your weapons. For goodness’ sake put them down!”
James watched the three of them steadily, and slowly realised for the first time with shame as he gazed upon Elizabeth's face, that he had been regarding her as nothing more than a safe ticket to social acceptance. He had forged her, a slight but strong-willed creature, into a make-believe shield behind which he could attempt to hide and forget himself, who he truly was, down to every little sordid detail. And yet, that was his base fabric, it was not something he could ever alter, he thought with a lowering of his eyes. He had to accept that now, even if it had been so mistakenly easy to believe he could somehow get away with being absorbed into the dream comfort of marriage under the approval of a pushy governor. After everything that had happened, each of them had risen to the occasion and proved something of themselves. Elizabeth was no different. She was braver than he ever could be, and watching her now as she stood by the side of the one she truly believed in, truly loved, James knew then, that he could no longer play rival to a prize unworthy of him, and neither could he pretend any longer to compete for a woman who, regardless of his fondness and perhaps mistaken feelings, never quite managed to preoccupy his mind and heart as much as another.
“So this is where your heart truly lies, then?" he asked.
“It is,” she replied in all calmness. James released a great inward sigh, and knew it was time to let go both of Elizabeth and his own cowardly perceptions attached to the socially acceptable and idealised image of her as the most suited domestic partner.
“Well! I’m actually feeling rather good about this,” said Sparrow, leaning towards the governor who quickly turned his face away with a grimace. “I think we've all arrived at a very special place, eh? Spiritually…Ecumenically…Grammatically?”
James waited patiently for Jack to finish, feeling suddenly at ease with everything, as though some weight had started gradually easing from his shoulders. But still he prepared himself to apprehend the man, knowing he would attempt to make another escape, thinking them all distracted with his frivolous chit-chat.
"Friends! This is the day that you will always remember as the day that-”
The fool toppled over the battlements and James rushed like the rest of them to the walls.
“Idiot," said that all-too-familiar voice, and James felt his heart skip a beat all of a sudden as he glanced to his side and saw him squinting like the other men against the glare of the waters below. "He has nowhere to go but back to the noose.”
Andrew looked back at him, and James wished then and there that all his thoughts could reach him in the blink of an eye.
“What’s your plan of action? Sir?"
There is so much I would like to tell you right this moment...
“Perhaps," said the governor as he stepped up to his side. "On the rare occasion, pursuing the right course demands an act of piracy, piracy itself can be the right course?”
Somehow the skies seemed suddenly the most beautiful shade he had ever seen. Brighter, even, than on the day of his promotion. Despite the solemnity of his demeanour, inside he wanted to celebrate with a kiss from his most trusted man, but he had to give a few final words to end it all properly.
“Mr. Turner,” he began, turning back to Will.
“I will accept the consequences of my actions,” said the younger man gravely, but he lowered his eyes upon his sword.
“This is a beautiful sword," he said thoughtfully, then met Will squarely in the eye. "I would expect the man who made it to show the same care and devotion in every aspect of his life.” He glanced at Elizabeth, and felt happy at the relief in her eyes. The governor made no protests; perhaps the spirit of the moment could command nothing less than a grudging consent. Whatever happened now between the three, James had no part of any longer, and as he started to walk away he heard someone call for him.
“Commodore! What about Sparrow?”
James turned his head back and met Andrew's eye. Despite himself he felt his lips pulling into the faintest of smiles, unable to contain any longer the blessed feeling of relief coursing through his veins, nor the fresh new freedom with which his heart seemed to beat, almost anew, sometimes giving out those tiny tremors of excitement when their sights should meet.
“Well," he said with a lopsided smile which he had learnt off the other. "I think we can afford to give him one day’s head start.”
There was no need, thought Andrew, to demand a truce, an explanation, a declaration of love. He couldn't care less if he was second best to Elizabeth Swann so long as James still sought him out and followed after his footsteps. In the bleakest and most hopeless moments of their somewhat ambiguous relationship, Andrew had consoled himself with the thought that he, and he alone, had been the first to claim James's spotless virtue. Married man or not, James's body belonged to him. Perhaps such self-delusion was childish, but he cared not for arguments against it, especially not now, when he could rejoice at James's decision. Stood against the door of James's office, Andrew could not help but become enticed by the way James was slowly undoing his cravat, his eyes meeting his and then lowering almost demurely. Falling for the trap, Andrew came closer.
Breakfast was accompanied with some grumbling amongst a handful of officers not yet on duty. Andrew tried his best to get something down despite the sickness of heart, if not stomach. Having paid an early visit to the commodore to see how he was faring after their somewhat rough evening together, he had been promptly dismissed after the briefest and most impersonal of utterances. It was as though nothing had happened between them, the way James was acting, and he didn't know if it was because he was nursing hurt pride or re-establishing professional distance. Whichever it was Andrew felt terrible, and only wished James had allowed him to stay long enough to apologise. But even whilst he blamed his own lack of control on the night, he could not help feeling a blow to his own pride at the other's reluctant submission. And if he guessed right, James was now regretting every minute of what had happened, and the thought was enough to ruin the rest of his day.
“Won't you stop already with all this needless bickering," Norton at last broke in from his end of the table.
Willis rubbed his chin and stifled a yawn before grabbing his mug and peering into its contents.
“Do stop being a grouch, Norton, and join in with the fun."
"I don't doubt that being a gossip is fun," snorted Norton over a gulp of his watery coffee. "But we're not our wives, Mr Willis."
"Shame," muttered Andrew sullenly from a corner. "We would have far more lively conversations then."
"Discussing in detail the capture and punishment of pirates is lively enough for me," said one officer, but Theo sunk back in his chair with a 'bah-humbug'.
"Swash-buckling wenches, more like."
"Please, Mr Groves, not at this hour," said Norton with a grimace over his mug. "It's awfully distasteful."
"My coffee is distasteful," grumbled Theo in return.
"This whole rescue mission is distasteful," someone uttered to themselves, and Andrew glanced up at the men seated at the table, wondering who had spoken what was in his own mind. "The sooner we catch up with Sparrow, the better."
"Rather the kipnappers," said Norton. "I want to see the men putting all their drilling to good practice-"
"You'd better have trained them well then, considering we're up against experienced opponents."
Norton snorted and looked blandly at Willis.
"Don't speak of them as though they are equals."
Whilst the two men passed digging comments between them, Theo sat back to share a quieter word with Andrew.
"Our clever commodore is aiming for two birds with one stone," he said, catching his friend's attention.
"What makes you say that?" asked Andrew, watching him from the corners of his eyes as he picked up his mug.
"Catch the rogues, rescue the girl, hang Sparrow, what else can you fit into the knight's tale save throwing in a dragon and wicked hag," Theo scoffed.
"You forget our Miss Swann is not your ordinary damsel in distress," said Andrew scornfully under his breath, and he saw Theo smiling amusedly around the rim of his mug.
"I'm beginning to think you are jealous," he said teasingly, making Andrew choke on his cold coffee.
“Whatever happened to her dress?”
“Someone ought to get the poor girl covered.”
"I feel as though I should be turning around."
"Yet you don't."
"And neither do you."
Andrew ignored the hushed mutterings of Norton and Willis and observed the svelte figure of Elizabeth like the rest of them as she hurried after the retreating figures of her father and rescuer.
“But we’ve got to save Will!”
Noble but foolish; she was far better suited to the blacksmith, he thought to himself. But then again, perhaps James wanted someone so headstrong to boss him around a bit.
“No. You’re safe now. We will return to Port Royal immediately, not go gallivanting after pirates!”
Andrew grimaced at the governor’s words; he didn't like the sense of closure. He’d much prefer to stay at sea himself.
“Then we condemn him to death.”
“The boy’s fate is regrettable, but, then, so was his decision to engage in piracy.”
“To rescue me! To prevent anything from happening to me!”
Andrew saw that even Willis and Norton were slowly being won over, for they had fallen quiet and seemed to regard Elizabeth with sympathy in their eyes. With a small sigh he turned his head to watch the debate, recognising, however reluctantly, the bravery behind the Turner boy's actions. With some bitterness he couldn’t imagine anyone risking so much for the likes of him.
“It’s very unlikely she’ll be able to make good time. Think about it. The Black Pearl. The last real pirate threat in the Caribbean, mate. How can you pass that up?”
“By remembering that I serve others, Mr. Sparrow, not only myself.”
Andrew felt himself nodding in agreement with James's response, but he saw the determination in Elizabeth's eyes as she chased after him, and didn't know why, but held his breath.
“Commodore I beg you, please do this, for me. As a wedding gift.”
As James stopped and turned his head, Andrew looked down to his feet. The entire ship seemed to fall silent, waiting for the commodore's response.
“Elizabeth, are you accepting the commodore’s proposal?”
The governor sounded shocked, but not unhappy.
“I am,” said Elizabeth, and Andrew swallowed, clenching his hands behind his back to stop one from reaching out and grabbing James's arm.
“A wedding! I love weddings. Drinks all around!” cried Sparrow, and Andrew violently wanted to run him through. James didn't look at him, but turned around and slowly started descending the steps.
“I know. Clap him in irons, right?"
“Mr. Sparrow," said James, voice as calm and collected as always. "You will accompany these fine men to the helm and provide us with the bearing to Isla de Muerta. You will then spend the rest of the voyage contemplating all possible meanings of the phrase silent as the grave. Do I make myself clear?”
Andrew watched them lead Sparrow away. Something else was clear, he thought as he watched the governor exchange looks with James. He'd made his choice, and there was nothing he could do now.
“Sorry, but it’s for your own safety.”
“Coward! The commodore ordered – I have to tell him! The pirates! They’re cursed! They cannot be killed!”
“Don’t worry, miss, he’s already informed of that. A little mermaid flopped up on deck and told him the whole story.”
Andrew closed the doors and faced his men, knowing he had been petty, but he didn't care. He could have said far worse.
He heard the bell tolling, and growled; he should have known better than to trust the word of a pirate.
The men started rowing back towards the Dauntless, but the damned pirates were already using his own ship to direct shots at them. Blasts fell short of his own boat, each one fuelling the angry humiliation within. When they finally reached her they climbed up and straight into a smoky nightmare he could barely begin to describe. He hardly had the chance to take a breath before a fiend locked eyes with him and began rushing his way. Without hesitation James pulled his pistol and shot the man as he heard another's ghastly battle cry.
As he drew his sword he noticed from the corner of his eye some fatal attack, and whipped his head round to witness a body slumping beneath the twin swords of two horrendous demons; it wasn't Andrew. He felt relief shooting up despite the grief of a lost man, felt it mingle in his breast with a newfound resolution to defeat the enemy. It wasn't Andrew. Andrew was still fighting somewhere on this ship. His eyes darted around madly as he felt all the inside of his mouth and throat suddenly dry up. Sweat trickled down his back and he tightened his grip before striking blades with another opponent with silent words of prayer in his head, if not on his snarling lips.
For a moment the madness stopped and the ghastly vision began to melt away into the forms of men. Andrew finally caught sight of the commodore, unharmed and still on his feet, god be praised. He jumped as a body fell heavily against him, and pushed it away till it fell like other defeated pirates against the bloodied deck. Relief of victory washed over the men still standing as the remaining rogues surrendered.
“The ship is ours, gentlemen.”
They all broke into huzzahs, and the governor came out to join them. Andrew felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and turned around to see Willis gasping for his breath, with a river of blood trickling down the side of his face.
“Mr-” he began, but his eyes drooped to a close and he started to fall. Andrew cursed as he quickly caught him.
“I need help!”
The man barely grimaced as the surgeon finished up on his stitches. He grabbed his hat and gave his word of thanks before making way for the next patient; a sailor who grunted with each step, supported by another as he limped his way up.
“Thank you for your help,” Willis donned his hat as they walked past the wounded, waiting for their turn.
“Not at all,” Andrew replied, eyes scanning across the causalities. Theo and Norton strode their way, the former rubbing his brow with a troubled frown.
“To think we were up against demons!”
Andrew remembered Elizabeth’s warning and flushed.
“Yes, well we still bloody beat them,” Norton harrumphed, wincing as he heard a man’s cry of pain under the hands of Mr. Phillips.
“The sooner we leave the better,” said Andrew and he felt Willis’s hand on his shoulder.
“I agree, you never know what may come next.”
Andrew walked away with the rest of them, but would rather have stayed in this part of the ship, if only so the men’s groans would block out those unwanted voices in his head.
Word passed round that the officers were to dine with the commodore in his great cabin that evening. Andrew poked his head through the door of his own cabin and was about to shout on the steward boy again when someone thrusted a pitcher at him. He straightened up and took the pitcher from Willis.
“How is your head?”
“Good as new.”
“Will you stop moving!”
They looked over and saw Theo trying impatiently to tie another officer's cravat, the man having received some burn wounds to his hands.
"These dinners are rare," said Willis as he ran a hand back over his wig. "Perhaps the commodore has something to announce."
For a bizarre moment Andrew looked at Theo struggling with the officer and saw Elizabeth tying James's cravet.
"Perhaps," he uttered and nodded at Willis before stepping back into his cabin. Closing the door, he poured the water into the basin and stood leaning over it as he stared at the tiny crack in the bottom of the container. He picked up his razor and started to shave, cursing when the first swipe landed him a cut. Tiny droplets fell into the water, mingling salt with blood. He looked up into the tiny square of mirror and saw his eyes were red.
They had so many toasts, Andrew was feeling rather giddy before they even started on the food, but he did remember to give a private toast to God for blessing their dinner with the absence of Elizabeth.
“To the Dauntless and her commanding officer!” bellowed Norton, and they all raised their glasses again with a collective cheer. Andrew watched the way James's eyes sparkled in the lantern light. Despite the professional distance he kept to himself, Andrew believed there was nothing quite so pleasant as watching James grace them with his rare smiles and even unreserved good humour at the table. The smell of food wafted into the air as the lads came in and fell about them with silver dishes.
“To the commodore,” said Andrew suddenly as his hand jerked up into the air before he could stop it. “And the future Mrs Commodore.”
Weatherby looked delighted and raised his glass immediately. He saw James look at him with concern and grinned. Tossing back the glass, he smacked his lips afterwards and sighed inwardly to himself. "Congratulations Mr Gillette," he murmured with a chuckle to the emptied glass. "Once again you are one lieutenant amongst many."
"Ah, Mr Gillette," said a voice at his side, and Andrew turned his head to see Willis coming to his side.
“The man without whom I would have fallen and bled to death before everyone finished their huzzah-ing.”
Andrew laughed and raised his glass to his lips.
"Do you really believe there will be a Mrs Commodore?" Willis asked mildly, and his hand stopped before he could take another sip of his wine.
"How do you mean?" he said quietly, eyeing the other man from the corners of his eyes.
"We all know the girl's not your ordinary damsel in distress," replied Willis coolly and Andrew snorted before he could help it.
"A commonplace fact is it?" he said icily. "Too bad the commodore hasn't realised it yet."
"Careful," uttered Willis as the one they were talking about approached them.
"Sir," they said collectively.
“Mr Willis told me you saved his life," said James.
"Mr Gillette is too modest," said Willis smoothly.
"I merely dragged you below deck," Andrew muttered somewhat sullenly. He caught sight of the happy-looking governor behind James and despised the smile on James's face.
"And saw to it that I didn't bleed to death," added Willis.
"That was Mr Phillips."
James cleared his throat politely and Andrew watched him turn his head to address Willis, and took his chance to make an escape.
"Excuse me, sir, Mr Willis, I'm afraid I'm in need of some air," he uttered, turning from them.
"Mr Gillette," he heard Willis say. "Take care not to fall on your way out." Andrew turned and grinned graciously with a bow before turning back around and striding quicker towards the door.
"Has he had much to drink, Mr Willis?"
"Quite a bit, sir."
The night was the most splendid shade of navy, broken through here and there with little patches of fading light. He picked up on the odd voice now and again as men continued to tend to the smooth running of the Dauntless. Andrew inhaled a deep lungful of the warm and salty breeze gliding across the sea and leant upon the rail.
He lowered his head against his arms and secretly willed the footsteps not to come any closer.
"Andrew..." came the voice again, quiet and concerned. "Are you alright?"
With a held breath Andrew raised his head and waited for James to approach his side. When he looked over he saw James watching the horizon as though to avoid meeting him in the eye.
"The governor looks happy," he said, trying not to sound bitter.
"I suppose he has reason to be," replied James quietly.
"Don't pretend to talk of it so lightly," snapped Andrew with barely hidden scorn, and he turned his face away. James was quiet. Andrew pushed away from the rail with a sharp, frustrated sigh and clasped his hands behind his back.
“But you're right," he said quickly, looking ahead. 'Marriage makes sense. It's safe."
He glanced over and saw James still refusing to meet his eye. Andrew lowered his own gaze, feeling his lips draw into a tight line. Try as he might, though, he could not hold back the raging insult in his heart.
"So it seems you no longer have a dilemma, James, for you've made your choice. Or rather she has for you."
"Andrew, you must understand," James finally began to say, his tone low and careful when Andrew interrupted by breaking into a smile, the suddeness of the unexpected gesture catching James off guard.
"Surely remorse is the wrong tone, sir?" he said smilingly in bitter jest. "After all it is a day of celebration. But forgive my impudence for departing so soon, I'm afraid I have grown rather tired, yet my deepest congratulations to you sir, you finally have what you've always wanted."
With another smile and the tightest of nods he left the rail, ignoring James's voice as he called him back, deciding he would return promptly to his own cabin and send for an entire bottle of rum or whatever they had left for himself; he needed somewhere to laugh and cry to his heart's content without the fear of questioning eyes, and the sooner he had more drink, the quicker he could forget James's depressingly defeatist tone. He had had it with listening to the same regrets, to that old confirmation that he really wasn't worth fighting for, that he didn't stand a chance against polite society.
He faced a vast sea of leering faces, unable to speak and not knowing where to look. Fingers pointed, lips spat, but the only tears were his own. Or he thought they were his own. The next thing he knew he was watching someone else on the platform, stood behind and trying to figure out who it was infront. But he knew only too well, and afraid to move, he couldn’t even call out but only watched as they slipped the rope around the other's neck and pulled it taut, and he wished that he could shut his eyes to the red strand of hair which had strayed from underneath the haphazard wig. Then the trap door fell open and the figure dropped, and James felt himself falling too.
He snapped open his eyes and heard his own breathing, light and fast. For a moment he didn’t know what he was doing laying on the ground, and then he looked up at the couch and he realised he must have fallen off it in his sleep. He felt moisture trickling over the bridge of his nose and sat up slowly, wiping his face to rub the salty bleariness from out of his eyes. Surveying his cabin he saw that everything was bathed in a golden light which poured in through the windows. All around him he could hear movement and the productive voices of his men. Another day had already started, and he took a deep breath before letting it out again in the attempt to expel the last of his jitters. Quickly he got up onto his feet before anyone knocked at the door; if they asked, he wouldn't know quite how to explain why their commander was looking so baffled, nor the fear which still glistened in his red roving eyes.
The governor appeared too down to start a conversation, so they sat and ate in the silence James was much accustomed to. After a while though, he began to find something pitiful in the elder man's downcast expression and sighs, and decided he ought to say something if only so they wouldn't have to listen to the sole tinkling of their spoons against the rims of their cups.
“Rest assured governor, Elizabeth shall be with us soon,” he said firmly. Weatherby smiled half-heartedly but sighed again as he looked down at the cup in his hands.
“With you leading the rescue, I do feel assured," he said. "But still, one cannot help worrying when the perpetrators are-”
“I shall see to it personally that no man escapes justice,' James cut in smoothly, and took a sip of tea.
“I just hope that she is alright," said Weatherby quietly.
“If we find that they have ill-treated Elizabeth in even the smallest of ways, I shall make sure that they feel much more than just regret.”
Andrew woke to the sound of Norton moving around in his cabin next door. He wondered at the hour in the dimness, and reached for the sheets, finding them damp. A sudden flashback, and he was pressing tight against the wall of the stern, burying his face into the pillow to remain as silent as possible. His face burned, and he dragged himself out of the cot, almost knocking the shallow basin clean off the set of drawers upon which it stood. Rubbing a hand over his jaw, he frowned at the memory of the commodore, and opened the door, peering out across the dining table.
“Good morning, Mr Gillette.”
He stiffened as grey eyes raised and gave him a quick once-over. Willis was already up and seated at the table, eating breakfast alone.
“Good morning, Mr Willis,” he returned as pleasantly as he could, remembering Theo's words of advice.
“Did you have trouble sleeping last night? I heard quite an amount of noise coming from your cabin,” came the smooth baritone, and Andrew tried his best not to scowl, even as the embarrassment flared with a vengeance, and he felt horridly exposed without his cravat to hide the heat now beginning to burn all the way up his neck. His ears felt so warm, he thought he could toast bread with them.
“I never have trouble sleeping,” he replied, perhaps a touch too quickly, and caught sight of the lad as he came out with a pitcher. “Thompson, bring me some water for the basin afterwards.”
Feeling Willis's eyes still on him, Andrew withdrew back into his cabin and shut the door firmly.
They stood together at quarter deck, and he confirmed points of navigation with the lieutenants, casting a glance down the waist of the ship, all the way to the forecastle and back again. The men were lively enough, and handling her well, and in the meantime he could think of no immediate issues which needed addressing.
“That will be all, gentlemen,” he dismissed the men with a nod, and they began to disperse after returning the necessary formalities. Clasping his hands behind his back, he turned his head towards Gillette as he began to walk away.
“Mr Gillette,” he said, and the other stopped, one sleeve raised and poised readily against his side.
“A word,” he turned and paced towards the rear of the deck and Andrew followed. Hearing the fading of footsteps, James waited until Andrew had reached his side, and turned half a step towards him.
“I,” he began, watching the attentive and serious expression on the other's face with some hidden affection when his eyes fell upon something at his neck.
“You have blood on your cravat,” he said simply, and Andrew frowned and dipped his chin down for a second as he attempted to find where he meant.
“Must have had an accident with the razor,” he muttered.
James glanced past Andrew's shoulders and saw the others busy with their own alloted tasks. Swiftly he stepped an inch closer and lifted his hands to adjust Andrew's haphazardly tied cravat. His eyes were on the knot he was making, but he heard clearly enough the faint snatch of breath when he accidentally brushed the back of a finger under Andrew's chin. Another quick glance at the men and he stepped back, hands joined once more behind his back as though they had never moved.
“We are blessed with a leading wind today, sir,” said Andrew, turning around and looking up at the swell of the sails.
“And yet we remain behind.”
“I wouldn’t worry, sir,” said Andrew. "Nothing escapes the Dauntless.”
“Indeed,” James murmured, watching the side of Andrew's face. He waited a moment before adding, “I trust you found the evening had been a pleasant one...?”
James's eyes were trained on Andrew's face, ready for any flicker of emotion. Sure enough they spotted the contortion beginning in the brow but better judgement quickly stepped in, and Andrew forced a smile; to James it was but an empty reassurance, sparking a sense of self-loathing.
“Pleasant enough, sir,” Andrew said at last.
A bit further off, they could see Weatherby was looking glum as he exchanged words with Groves, who seemed to respond with a nod before the two of them looked over in their direction. Andrew politely dismissed himself and started walking away as the governor approached. James wondered what else he could say that the man hadn't already heard in the attempt to ease his incessant worrying.
From where he was standing James could see both the figures of Andrew and Willis, stood to one side of the waist of the ship. Willis had his back to James, but he saw Andrew clearly past the other's uniformed shoulder. Something Willis said apparently surprised Andrew, for he stopped talking and his eyes widened. Then his face grew red, and he stormed away angrily. James watched as Willis turned around to watch him go with a smug look on his face. Narrowing his eyes, James decided there was something vaguely unsettling about the smile which now played slowly across his lips. It looked suspiciously mischievous, perhaps even devious. Suddenly he wanted to know what the conversation had been about. He recalled that time they were arguing in his office, when Andrew had asked him how he would react if he was the one Willis had ratted on. Was it possible that Willis knew something?
Setting down his quill, James sighed at his slow progress with the paperwork still to complete for their sudden rescue mission. He tried to focus, but found his mind kept straying. More than once he found himself contemplating the devising of some triviality to get Andrew to report to his desk. He knew it would become suspicious if he kept calling him aside so often though, and he did not want the men muttering about favouritism. Perhaps he could summon for Willis instead, he thought, but for what purpose? He couldn't possibly ask something that would only raise questions against himself and the implicated. Come the evening and the governor would be joining him as the officers dined and drank together below them.
He was not entirely sure which officer had been alloted which cabin, but the closeness of their proximity to each other troubled him. It was not uncommon, this crime amongst those running a ship; from the commander to the common sailor, why should he be surprised if another man in the same rank as Andrew were to be similarly inclined? With a scornful sigh he closed his eyes and covered his face with a hand, realising it was jealousy as well as fear and paranoia which made him think so suspiciously of his own men. He was over-reacting, he told himself, and reading too much into things.
Removing his hand, he stared at the paper before him and tried to summon up the night before. He remembered drinking a ridiculous amount. The bottles in his cabinet were evidence of that. Vaguely he remembered it had been Andrew who opened the door, and he was quite sure they had sat together on the couch. A knock at the door broke his concentration.
Andrew laughed half-heartedly along to another one of Theo's witticisms, but his mind was elsewhere. He was wondering whether James would be pacing on quarter deck again. He decided to go and see for himself. Dismissing himself from the table, he felt a hand touch his shoulder and turned to find Theo clutching over his stomach with a hand.
“I will join you on that stroll.”
“Is that wise?” asked Andrew blandly, as he felt himself being pushed along and up, and tried not to look sour as he climbed the steps.
The governor retired earlier than usual to his cabin. Men were still engaged with the odd job here and there in the background, passing him as he walked along the deck. When he reached quarter deck, he was on his own again. If he had guessed correctly, Andrew would come.
“I still think you ought to just call it a day,” muttered Andrew as he walked along with Theo, when they heard a voice pipe up from behind them.
“What a pleasant evening.”
They looked back and saw Willis coming up to join them.
"Not him too," Andrew mumbled under his breath. He sighed inwardly and felt Theo put a hand on his shoulder. "What is it?" he asked, reading the grimace on his face. "You feel worse?"
"Maybe you were right about calling it a day," said Theo, clutching over his stomach and bending forwards.
"Let me help you down," offered Andrew, not quite wanting to be left with Willis.
"That's alright, I have it in me to drag myself back," Theo chuckled, waving them off as he turned to go. "Pray you didn't have as much of that broth as me."
Willis snorted and Andrew turned his head to watch him reach inside his coat as he looked up at the night sky.
"I apologise if I offended you earlier with my jesting," he said, pulling out a small, silver snuff box and flipping open the lid. He offered it to Andrew, but he shook his head.
"I suppose it's not a crime," said Andrew mildly. Willis chuckled unpleasantly as he started pacing and Andrew followed at his side, not quite at ease but trying not to show it.
"What is it they say? Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. What a naive saying, I always think to myself." Andrew eyed him warily, but Willis was busy observing something in the distance.
"Word travels fast onboard a ship," said Andrew. This time Willis met his gaze but only for a moment before he looked away again, and this time Andrew followed his line of sight which fixed in the direction of the commodore's private spot of contemplation.
"Indeed, Mr Gillette."
Andrew waited for Willis to say something else, but he only snapped shut the lid of his snuff box and slipped it back inside his coat. They carried on walking in silence, and Andrew looked out for James, but saw that quarter deck was empty.
He didn't come. Or rather couldn't, being already with company...
James tidied up the papers on his desk and picked up the lid for the ink. He felt a yawn surfacing and pressed a hand to his mouth to stifle it. Perhaps he ought to retire for the evening, he thought. Pushing back in his chair he stood up and stretched, then rubbed at his face with his hands, going over in his head the things he had done which needed doing, matters he had discussed which needed discussing, and the problems addressed which need addressing; everything that he could think of was in order as usual, but he still felt as though he had missed something.
Pacing over to his drinks cabinet, he opened its door and picked out a bottle. The empty one in the corner made him think of the night before, reminding him of how little he could actually remember. He took a clean glass and poured himself a standard measure, telling himself to resist a refill once it was gone. And yet two glasses later he had to face the fact that things were easier said than done. Falling back onto the couch, he sighed and let his head fall back against the velvety upholstery. Closing his eyes, he could feel the drink warming his body in all the right places except one. Andrew's face appeared behind his eyelids, and he could see the collective rising of his eyebrows, that curl to the corner of his mouth just before it opened with another one of his witticisms.
"I try so hard to convince myself,” he said quietly. “That you aren't hiding something behind that smile of yours.”
He heard a small knock and lowered his hand from his face, but didn't move. When the knock sounded for the second time, he quickly dried his eyes with his sleeve and got up from the couch. Both dreading and hoping it would be Andrew, he drew in a breath when he reached the door, and put his hand on the handle. Opening the door, he came face to face with the one person who always knew when something was amiss. In a sudden moment of panic, James almost shut the door on him, but checking himself before he could, he cleared his throat and clasped his hands behind his back to hide his restlessness.
“Andrew. Is everything alright?"
"Yes," Andrew said at first, but then hesitated. "No."
James didn't say anything.
"May I come in?"
He glanced past Andrew's shoulder.
"Can this not wait?" he asked quietly.
Andrew looked troubled.
"Do you want me to go?"
James turned and started walking away. Behind him he heard Andrew come inside and shut the door.
He watched as James walked over to his desk. It was like a barrier between them, and he didn't want to be asked to sit again.
"James," he said before the other had reached his seat. "You weren't yourself last night, and I know something is wrong even now...how long do you intend to keep up this pretence?"
James watched the paper on his desk for a moment before looking up at him. From where he stood Andrew could see the faint trembling in his lower lip and the beginning furrows in his brow. He seemed to be struggling with himself.
"Sit down," he uttered with a frown as he lowered himself tensely into his chair.
"No," said Andrew softly, and James sighed, raising his hands to rub at his face.
"What is it that you want, Andrew."
"For you to be honest with me," he said, and James lowered a hand to look up at him. "And sober long enough to face up to things..."
"I'm sorry for the night before..."
"Do you think it's any easier for me...seeing you get like that because you don't want to commit to anything?"
James sighed and shook his head, turning his face to the side.
"Don't come any more," he said softly.
"Is that what you want?"
"We should stop," said James, watching his hand where it laid upon the desk. Andrew strode quietly across the room, stopping as he came right up to James's side.
"Are you afraid to look at me," he asked, touching his shoulder. James shut his eyes and his lips parted again but he could utter no words. Fingers brushed faintly against his cheek, and he turned his face slowly towards him.
"You have no idea," he whispered, opening and lifting his eyes. "What you do to me."
"I'll stop coming," Andrew whispered in return, resting his hand on his shoulder. "When your heart stops calling to me."
"Andrew," James began to protest, but he shook his head.
"I hate making you the coward you're not," he said softly, his hand falling away from his shoulder. James caught and gripped it tight.
"You make me afraid of myself..."
Andrew pressed his other hand to James's cheek and he closed his eyes with a quiet sigh, his breath blowing warm against his palm.
"Don't be afraid," Andrew whispered, and leant down at the same time he drew James's face up to meet him in a kiss. A hand crept up to hold onto the edge of his coat as his own slid back to clasp James's neck. Their lips parted and tongues stroked against one another, gentle at first then suddenly rough and needful as though the tide had changed beyond their control. Andrew grabbed James's arms, pulling him out of his chair, and they stumbled their way back against the couch. They stood there clasping and clinching one another like drowning men, pressing their bodies tightly together and murmuring each other's names against their hungry mouths, their hands roaming and grasping onto every possible inch and not letting go.
"Andrew," James whispered his name, his voice forlorn and sad. Andrew tried to kiss the pain and regret away; he kissed him soft and hard, kissed him until they lost their breaths and then kissed him yet some more. James eventually broke off panting for air whilst Andrew loosened his cravat and kissed under his jaw. He pressed his lips into James's skin, nipping with his teeth the nervous and alluring throb trapped in his bared throat. He heard James release a nervous sigh, and tightened his arms around him.
It both was and wasn't what Andrew had expected. James was bent over the arm of the couch as Andrew struggled against his rigid and reluctant body. Everything seemed to happen so fast as James at last gave in, and he always knew it would be naive to think the man would do so without complaint. His consent had been hastily given with an abandon which Andrew knew stemmed from a fear of hesitation, of second thoughts. He knew James would be struggling against his pride to accept his own submission, but once they had begun it was almost impossible to stop. Rather it was beyond Andrew altogether when he had the warmth of James's skin beneath his hands, the nervous labouring of their breaths filling his ears in the too-quiet cabin mingled with the hushed, broken whispers of encouragement which did nothing to ease James's tension. Perhaps it was too much, too soon, he thought to himself despite not being able to hold back.
During those last, fevered moments, nothing else registered save the maddening heat and friction. Now and again James would let slip a sound of pain, a barely restrained groan or a weak whimper as he clutched at the upholstery for leverage. Andrew couldn't help but feel spurred on by the sight of James's shivering shoulders, the neck arching low as he hung his head. Such sounds were new and thrilling to him, making his blood boil the more as he sped up and used the other almost brutally. Then he heard a sharp gasp and felt the sudden, nervous spasming of James's body. His release was too soon, and Andrew gripped hard at his slumping body, tugging him back to meet his own urgently bucking hips. Another moment of heavy breaths mingled with the damp thwack of skin and he finally reached completion with a stifled groan of release. Andrew collapsed against James's slowly heaving back, and together they laid one on top of the other, gasping for air as the half pained, half pleasurable tide crept away again, leaving them cold and shivering.
“You locked the door?” James asked wearily beneath him. Andrew slowly peeled himself off his back and pulled up his breeches.
“Yes,” he uttered, still a little breathless as he watched James slowly pick himself up from the armrest and reach back for his waistband with trembling hands. Andrew felt a stab of guilt at the sight. When James turned around Andrew swiftly pulled him into a tight embrace. With a sigh James leant into Andrew and gripped loosely at the uniform at his back.
“It's not enough,” Andrew whispered despite himself, his voice hoarse and desperate.
"It's all I have," whispered James with exhaustion.
"No, I...don't mean that..." Andrew said then bit his lip and tightened his embrace; don't marry, he wanted to say. Stay with me.